Saturday, 20 September 2008

Blog 3 - Weekends Away

Written on behalf of the Tenteleni Nkomazi east Project. 
See www.tenteleni.org 

September and spring is here. Formerly mild Mpumalanga is now sweltering and the last lessons of the day are increasingly arduous for volunteers and learners alike. With only two weeks to go we are beginning to take the strain.

In our previous six weeks we have been working hard in school, assisting in lessons and running after school clubs. On the 28th of August Tenteleni hosted its annual sports day, running both soccer and netball tournaments in tandem. It was a highly successful event and after a number of close encounters and spirited comebacks Mgubho came out the winners in soccer whilst Tindzaleni triumphed in Netball. Nonetheless, despite all our hard work more must be done in the final stages before we leave on the 12th. We are still to host the Arts and Culture Festival, which will be held in the township’s central plaza, and assist the external speakers who are coming in to talk to learners of Mgubho and Zamakukhle combined schools.

Our time at school has been tough but interspersed with numerous moments of joy and deep satisfaction. Whether it is listening to the staff and pupils sing or witnessing that moment when something clicks in a child’s mind, we very rarely come back to Spice without something positive to take from the day. However a week at school can be exhausting and progress can be slow. Each Friday we are all ready for a chance to unwind and explore a bit more of Mpumalanga, “The Place where the sunrises”, and its immediate neighbours.

At Nkomazi East we are blessed with a number of major attractions within easy reach, most notably the world-renowned Kruger National Park. Our first weekend was spent exploring its most southerly extremities. Guided by “Uncle Dave” and chauffeured by the ever suffering Themba we entered the Crocodile Bridge gate at dawn and headed north. Within a few hundred meters of entering park we had our first sighting, a white Rhino, appearing black against the early morning horizon. Our good luck was repeated throughout much of the day and we left having seen and photographed four of the “big five”, the leopard seemingly one of the more reclusive animals in the park.

At the end of week five we also visited Mpumalanga’s Blyde River Canyon and God’s Window both situated to the north of the province. This weekend turned out to provide some of the group’s most surreal moments. At our first kombi stop we came across a BBC film crew who were keen to find out our opinions on South Africa. Naturally being the quiet camera shy type Laura readily agreed. After a lengthy interview we were asked to sum up an immensely contrasting and confusing country in a few words. No problem… “Shap Shap!!!”
Nor was that the end of our group’s notoriety, at the Potholes we were confronted by a school trip of South African teenagers. They were armed with cameras and determined to get a souvenir photo with the umlungus. Again, we obliged and as I write my image will be being shown to family, friends and possibly randomers in Limpopo. When in Africa…!

As well as travelling within South Africa we also had a chance to further add to our passport stamps with trips into Mozambique and Swaziland. A personal highlight of my time away was the weekend away in Maputo, Mozambique’s capital. Though less than 100km from the South African border the differences between the two countries are pronounced. The legacy of colonisation by the Portuguese and the subsequent two decades of civil war have helped to shape the country’s Latin outlook, leaving them with the envious ability to savour life. Maputo though falling apart at the seams is a place with immense charm. Dilapidated concrete apartment blocks and old colonial mansions line the broad avenues. Whilst downtown the cracked pavement is home to the buzz of street traders selling fish and fresh fruit.

Southern Africa truly is a place of wonder with so much variety and vitality. I will forever by grateful to Tenteleni for opening my eyes to such wonder.