Saturday, January 07, 2012

A Memorable Meeting

About 4 years ago, thanks to my friend Diane Katz, I became involved with an organization called Grannies a Gogo, which provides support to African grandmothers raising their Aids-orphaned grandchildren. I eventually became responsible for creating and maintaining their website. The group raises funds and makes a personal connection through letter writing.

As it turns out, the group we support is in Sabie, located within 150 km of Kruger Park. I made the decision quite some time ago that I would include a visit to Sabie to meet my letter writing partner Martina Makua.

Sabie is located in a beautiful valley where pine and eucalyptus plantations grow as far as the eye can see. It's obvious that forestry is an important part of the economy and it's what brought Susan Fenner, the founder of Grannies a Gogo, to Sabie in the first place. This view of Sabie is from the road high above as it winds down the valley.
Although Sabie is a typical small, rural, African town, with many fruit and curio stalls by the side of the road, it also has many beautiful waterfalls, canyons and vistas which bring many tourists to the region. This is one of the better known - Mac Mac Falls.
I had arranged with Joy, one of the local woman who helps with the organization, to bring Martina to meet us for lunch; I'd also suggested in a note to Martina that other family members were welcome. I was very pleased when she brought her younger sister Jane, Oupa, the grandson she'd raised and who had just passed the matric (graduation) and her daughter Carol, who was on a lunch break from her job at a Sabie furniture store. After lunch we followed Joy as she drove into Simile, the township where Martina lives. I had a chance to see the place where the gogos meet, although it was closed for the holidays. We wound our way up the hill past all the shacks, through the chickens and children on the road, almost to the top. We had no idea what her living conditions would be - I was kind of thinking that she might have no electricity or running water. But what a lovely, tidy house greeted us, with a well tended garden outside. It's obvious Martina has a green thumb as the front area was filled with a variety of plants. The interior was full of colourful flowers, plants and knickknacks. She's lived here since she was 'relocated' by the government in 1971. At that time certain areas were set aside for blacks and the area where she lived was designated a 'colored' area, not accessible to blacks. In this photo you can see her in her living room wearing her uniform for the 'golden games' that she has twice been selected for.

I think it was equally thrilling for all of us - I know that most of the Vernon Grannies won't ever have the opportunity to meet their letter writing partners and it's only through a variety of coincidences that I was able to. My son Scott, met and married Sam, from Johannesburg which is how this journey began. Below, l to r: Ross, Martina, Jane, Oupa (grandson), Sam, me, Joy in front of Martina's house.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Baboons, Elephants, Impala, Leopards and MORE

I think it was probably more than 30 years ago that I first envisioned going on a safari and I was definitely looking forward to this part of our trip. So I was trying really hard not to have my expectations too high. Fortunately, our trip into Kruger Park didn't disappoint. This park is amazing; within a few kilometers of the Numbi Gate we happened upon this elephant just meandering by the side of the road.
Of course, by our 4th day in the park we became quite blase towards the elephants - herds of elephants crossing the roads, lone ones bathing in a watering hole, and mother elephants protecting their babies like the one below. Sam was driving and became a bit nervous when the baby ran out in front of our car and the mother hurried to protect it. She made a move towards us, but then focused more on her baby to our relief.
This baby baboon has a sensible way of travelling! Now I know where the African mothers get the idea of carrying their babies on their backs.
After we arrived at the Lower Sabie camp we took a night drive. We'd heard about an impala kill further up the road but first we encountered a small group of hyenas.
A few meters up the road we spotted the impala in the tree. Once a leopard has killed its prey, it drags it into the tree to prevent scavengers, such as hyenas, from getting at it. The leopard will come back later to eat it.

And, as if on cue, the leopard appeared in the bush to our right.

Amazingly we saw the following animals on our first day (as well as the ones above): kudu, waterbuck, rhinoceros, gysbok, warthog, lion, impala, giraffe, zebra, hippopotamus, terrapin, pin-tailed whydah bird, crowned hornbill, vervet monkey, baboon, vulture, genet, civet, African wild cat, mongoose, puff adder, duiker, steenbok and probably a few more that I've forgotten! As we moved farther north in the park we actually saw fewer animals so we were glad we started where we did. Keep in mind that most of the animals were within a few meters of the road we were driving on and it gives you a sense of the number of animals in the park.

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