Ephram

"Ephram...like in the Bible", he said when we asked his name.  When we moved in to the Farmhouse, our friend CaspersMom (the sweetest lady, but I can never remember her name, so she is just 'caspersmom') sent a garden boy to help clean up the garden.  After a few hours, Ian asked Ephram if he was looking for work.  "Yes" he replied.  "Are you married?  Do you have kids?"  "Yes" he said once more.  "Come by tomorrow with your family and stay the week."  We liked Ephram, he worked hard and seemed like a good soul.  He showed up the next day with Colleen and little Smanyilay.  She was a tiny thing, and she screamed her head off every time Mona came near.  

It's strange for me to have 'houseboys' and 'maids'... It just seems so colonial, so not me.  But here in South Africa it is the norm, and I just tell myself that I will treat them with the upmost kindness. One can get very used to it as well;  floors are cleaned daily, the garden kept, leaves raked, chores done, dishes washed... "It's just you two here?"  Colleen asked.  "Yes, just us..."  "No kids?"  she asked, perplexed.  "No..."  and I added "not yet" to make us both feel better.  This is a four bedroom house, too large for just two people, especially in their eyes I'm sure. They are three, living in a space the size of a modest bathroom, yet within two days, they turned it into a quaint room, humbling me as I saw the pride they took in making it a make-shift home.  

They went home to their other home for the weekend...I wonder what it looks like, what they are like when they are not at work for the mlungu.  Before they left, I asked them if they wouldn't mind taking some photos, a family shot.  They agreed, and just before hopping in the car with Ian to go home, I got to see them for a few minutes as a family.  

Ephram & Smanyilay

Ephram & Smanyilay

ephram_72-2.jpg
small-1.jpg


Tagging along to go tagging: Impala

One of my favorite days on the reserve so far has been tagging along with the men on their mission to tag one of Joe's female impalas and move her to another camp within his farm.  She had jumped the fence during a fright from a storm, and now they needed to get her back, as the cold was about to set in and she was terribly frail.  I showed up with Lara, the little beagle pup I was sitting, and we all had coffee while the boys contemplated strategy.  Joe got the syringes ready, loaded up the dart gun, and made his plan.  "It takes eight minutes once the dart hits her, we have to move fast"  he said, eyes squinting with a stern calm.  

After about thirty minutes of slowly preparing, everything moved in warp speed.  Joe shot her through the bathroom window, we roared towards him with the truck, swooping him up, all eyes on the target and where she bolted off to.  "There she is!" shouted one of the guys, "don't lose her!" and we sped over the bumpy road through the bush on her trail.  "Six minutes."  Joe said calmly, but you could feel the tension filling up every inch of the cab we were sitting in.  We had her in sight, and saw her start to wobble as she tried to walk.  "Seven minutes..."  She was frozen now, her gaze in our direction as our eyes darted back and forth between her and the clock.  I was amazed that right at eight minutes, she fell.  And not two milliseconds later, Lara and I were alone in the cab, watching the boys dash out to grab her.  They picked her up and carefully walked back as fast as they could, laying her down in the back of the truck, one stayed in the back cradling the impala while we sped off once again to make it to the other camp.  "We have only a few minutes to get her there before she starts to come to, and she's very fragile right now", Joe explained.  Along the way, we heard a yell from the back, "She's going into shock!", we saw her convulsing, and time seemed to go in slow motion.  We made it to the camp, the truck was not even stopped before Joe popped out and began to assess his girl and administer aid to her.  My heart was pounding!  Was she going to be ok?  We were racing against the clock, both for the dart to wear off, and for her own little body to hold out long enough for Joe to help her.  He gave her several shots, and her body started to recover, her piercing eyes started to open, groggy but alright.  It seemed we were in the clear.  Little by little, she showed more signs of life, I stroked her to say it's okay, and her big brown eyes shone into mine;  I was overwhelmed with appreciation that I got to feel the magnificence of this being.  

There are so many people out there who pay to come to Africa and kill.  I am lucky to be on the side of those whose aim is to protect and care for such beautiful creatures.  When you see and feel these animals close up, you absorb a piece of them into your soul, and you are never the same.  I may have given up some of the creature comforts in life to move to Africa, but what I receive here is beyond what any fancy new app or hot new happy hour can ever give, and I am grateful.  

seven minutes...

seven minutes...

Honored to be featured with Virgin.com!

Today, I woke up to my dream of having my journey in Africa featured with Virgin!  What an honor to be connected with such an amazing group of people, out there helping others to change the world!  If you've clicked through the article and landed here, welcome!  I invite you to scroll down through the lions and elephants to take a deeper look into the month I spent with the communities in South Africa.   I love and appreciate comments, and look forward to having conversations with you, so enjoy the posts, enjoy the photos, and come back often!  If you haven't read the article yet, here you go!  http://www.virgin.com/unite/our-community/changing-the-world-through-a-lens

Much love,

Shelly 

 

About a lion

On my final game drive of the week, we got to be in the darkness with my beautiful pride of lions one last time.  It was a different experience to be with them at this hour, this is when they travel, when they hunt.  All of the little ones rushed up along side us, looking at us straight in the eye asking, "Do I know you?" "Should I care?".  After they got bored checking us out, they returned to the lesson at hand; their moms teaching them how to hunt, and of course, a little bit of play as well.  We sat there for a good half hour watching them interact with each other, then followed as they marched down the road to find their dinner for the night.  With the big cats, you can shine light on them at night and it doesn't bother them at all because the light gets absorbed behind the retina and is reflected back out.  For this reason, we could shine the lights around them and get an intimate viewing of their night time habits.  The antelope don't have this trait, so you have to switch off the lights immediately if you see them.  As we started to head home, we noticed a herd of impala grazing directly in the path that the lions were walking.  We stopped, switched off the engine and the lights, and listened... There in the pitch black of the bush you can almost hear your own breath, your senses heighten in anticipation of witnessing a kill. We heard the "Pbffff!" of one of the impala, it was her danger call. Then a slight rustle, then complete silence... The impala had seen the lion, so it was too late, there was no attack this time.  I was both disappointed and relieved at the same time.  It would have been a thrill to witness, but I also didn't have to listed to the scream of a dying animal.  Here are a few of my favorite photos from the night, I'll miss my "babies", as I got used to seeing them almost every day.  The gaze of my one special little lion will stay with me forever, it's precious beyond words to feel a silent conversation with such a stunning being.  A sweet connection with one of God's great creatures.  

DSC05726.jpg
DSC05711.jpg
DSC05721.jpg
DSC05731-2.jpg

Eles

It's amazing to me how a six ton animal can virtually disappear in the thick of the bush in the blink of an eye.  Their huge pillars of legs lifting off the ground with such grace, setting down again so gently that the long grass below hardly notices its being taken down to meet the earth.  Of all the animals I've come across, the elephant is one of my favorites. Maybe it's because their eyes meet yours when you pass, being at the same height as you in your vehicle.  You find their tiny orbs staring into yours just long enough to sense that they acknowledge you as a fellow being on the planet, sharing space, connecting for just a moment.  You hold your breath because you are in the presence of such power, such massive strength.  You sit there quietly listening to the whoosh from the flapping of their ears, you can almost hear the thick air split in two when they lift their trunk up high, then release it, falling towards the ground with a muffled snap.  When their canvass of a head turns to look at you, everything in your body wants to crawl inside itself and hide, but you savor the moment instead, daring to look in his eyes to say hello.  He turns his head forward, continues on, and you are left with the residue of awe tingling in your veins.  Eles, they are very special creatures indeed. 

eles-2.jpg
eles-1.jpg
eles-7.jpg
eles-6.jpg
eles-4.jpg

The Kingdom of Swaziland

Re-u-ni-ted, and it feeeels so good!... The song is stuck in my head this morning as I return to my blog, I did miss it, like a new puppy that I haven't seen in too long and comes to give me wet kisses.  

I sit here a bit dazed however, trying to think of where to start, what to say first, which photos to post, how to describe...  My world has been thrown off its axial tilt, and I am in love with its new orientation.  I'll start with the kingdom of Swaziland...

"What do you think about going to Swaziland for a few days?"  he asked, as we started to plan our five days together.  "Sure, I'm up for anything!"  I had no idea what or where this was, but apparently it was awesome.  Just 120 miles by 81 miles, Swaziland is a tiny, but breathtaking monarchy which sits inside of South Africa, bordering its north east side with Mozambique.  It took us a little over three hours to drive there from the backpackers in Nelspruit where I was dropped off by my new friends Sue, Lisa, Prince, and Mbali.  I walked into Funky Monkey slightly nervous to find my travel companion, as we hadn't seen each other since our wedding over a year ago. (Yes, I will remain cryptic for the time being, but don't worry, you'll get the whole story soon.)  As we saw each other, smiles filled us and we came together in a hug that said all was well, arms around each other we walked out to say goodbye to the gang as they wished us a happy journey.  I found myself having a hard time looking away from him, as it felt surreal, almost like we had been here all along.  We sat poolside and chatted with his friends, telling our story in brief and sipping on Castle Light beers.  I was happy to be on yet another adventure, having no clue as to where we were headed, and not having a care in the world about it.  I knew I was in good hands.  I loved these people around me instantly.

I'd never been in this part of the country before, we were headed towards the eastern plateau, the Highveld, which rises to 5,700 feet.  The drive was like nothing I had expected, there were layers upon layers of mountain range silhouettes in the distance, soft, green rolling hills scattered with granite and occasional farm houses, waterfalls peeking out from the valleys.  The DJ had a perfect soundtrack playing, and I was mesmerized by everything my eyes were taking in.  He said, "Just wait, you're gunna be blown away by this place..."  As we soared around the last curve, he showed me, "There!" and pointed to the speckles of huts on the hill ahead.  My jaw dropped as we slowed down to turn onto the dirt road, as I wondered how I got so lucky.  

 

DSC05920.jpg
DSC05917.jpg
DSC05916.jpg
DSC05932.jpg
DSC05930.jpg
DSC05927.jpg

The Fantastic Four!

Let me introduce you to my young photo prodigies, Mavis, Nthabisang, and Gerald.  I have been with them for three days now, and they are slowly stealing my heart.  We've had so much fun wandering around Mawewe finding photo subjects and playing with our cameras.  They are super sweet, eager to learn, and they are taking their photography course very seriously.  I absolutely love watching them in their elements, composing shots, posing their teachers, sharing what they have shot with their friends.  It's so cool to see, and I am so grateful that Mr. Sibuyi hand picked these three lovlies for me.  

Then there is Trevor.  I met him when I first arrived at Mawewe last week, he was tutoring a girl in the library.  He impressed me with his cobalt blue suit and deep pink button down shirt.  Every day he has been dressed to the nines, even though it is hot and horribly humid out.  I learned that he recently returned to his community after spending six years abroad in China at University.  He wanted to come back home to teach the children of his town how to excel in life and share his knowledge, yet he still has grand plans of more studies and changing the world.  When I told him what I was doing here, his eyes lit up and he wanted to be a part of it.  This made me feel so much better, as I now had someone I knew could carry on the program once I leave.  I've been giving him more detailed lessons about photography, as I know he will be able to relay the information well to future students.  

One of my teacher students Ntombi and I were standing out under the tree chatting today, and she looked at my shoes and said, "You must give me your shoes, I love them, you must give them to me...!"  I looked at her and smiled, and if they were any other shoes, I would have taken them straight off and passed them over, but they were my espadrilles from CapeTown and were my favorite shoes of all time.  Now, yes, I did feel guilty and selfish in not giving them to her, but I did promise that next time I came I would bring her some.  This pleased her and she said, "When are you coming back?!"  I asked her size, and jotted a mental note to get some espadrilles for Ntombi in a size 7.  Just then Trevor jumped in as well with "And you must bring me my nice camera!"  I looked at him, smiled, and motioned for him to follow me, leading him back to the library.  Reaching into my camera bag, I wasn't planning on leaving my G12 here, but this definitely felt right.  This camera was for Trevor, my gift to him for taking care of my program for me.  "Here, this is from me to you, I hope you enjoy it and learn a lot with it!"  "Ahhh, I will be taking five hundred photos today with this!"  He said, his smile wide and wrapped me in a hug.  He tells me, "The kids, they really love this; they are so motivated to learn and think this is the best! Thank you so much!"  Even though tomorrow will be my last day with Mawewe, I feel that I have at least created inspiration, and that, along with my heart felt hugs, is priceless.  

 

storyboard071.jpg
storyboard069.jpg
storyboard070.jpg
storyboard073.jpg
storyboard078.jpg

Mawewe & the Teachers

Mawewe high school is where I decided to hold my photography classes.  The kids there are old enough to grasp not only the technical side of the camera, but the ideas behind things like composition and story-telling.  Every day this week, I meet David at 8:30 a.m. and he brings me to the gate where I transfer to a car on the other side and drive through the washed out dirt roads at four miles an hour.  It takes about twenty minutes to arrive at the high school, the roads get a little better the farther along we go.  As we ride, my driver tells me in an irritated voice, "Ishhh, we need TAroads he'a.  Takes for evah to get thru."  I say, "TAroads?  What is that..?" He points to the road, "TA roads.."  and I get it, "Ahh, 'tar roads', yes, the roads are so bad here!"  "Weeei" he says in agreement.  

When we arrive, I am met by Mr. Sibuyi, a tall, handsome gentleman who runs the schools here in Dumphries.  "Afsheein, how are you?  I am Steve" he says with a beaming smile as he shakes my hand.  We walk into the library, which was donated by Pride n' Purpose, and he tells me the other teachers will be here soon.  David and I had decided the day earlier that it would be a great idea to not only teach the kids, but also teach the teachers so that they had tools to continue the program once I was gone.  (Why hadn't I thought of this before?)  I was a bit nervous, knowing that I would be the center of attention soon, and would have to know what the hell I was talking about. I didn't have much time to prepare materials, as it was a last minute change, so I was really just winging it.  Ten teachers filtered in over the next fifteen minutes, every one of them with eyes glued on me, waiting to see what I had to teach them.  

It was sweet, and surprising how much I realized they did not know about technology.  On the drive back later that afternoon, David explained to me, "For their whole lives, black people were told that if we touched something important, it would break.  It is engrained deep, they are still afraid of technology and haven't had any exposure to it."  It all made sense now why they looked at the cameras like space ships, holding them very lightly as if to say to an invisible presence "See, I am not really holding it, so don't worry, it will not break!".  

I showed them how to turn the cameras on, and walked around the table helping them find the 'on/off' buttons.  I watched as their eyes lit up with accomplishment when they saw the screen illuminate.  They murmured to each other in Shangaan, and I saw a few giggles from the women as they watched the 'live view' image appear.  Next was teaching how to hold a camera.  I held their hands in mine and placed our hands on the camera together with a firm grip, index finger on the shutter button.  I could feel the resistance against mine, as they still wanted to hold it so delicately.  To make a point, I said, "You must hold it firm with both hands so that if one hand lets go, the other is still holding it steady." "Otherwise," and I knew I had the strap around my wrist but they did not notice it, "if you let go with one hand, (I yanked one hand away so that the camera fell)...it'll DROP!"  All ten of them jumped as they watched the camera fly out of my hands towards the floor. The strap caught it, and they all sighed relief, smiling at me.  They got my point.  They took some photos playfully, then asked "So, how do I see the photograph I just took?"  I drew a picture of an arrow with a box around it and asked them all to find it on their cameras, and so it continued... After the teacher class, Steve found me three wide-eyed students. Dressed in their school's blue and white uniform, they walked shyly into the room and introduced themselves, and from the very first look, I knew this was going to be great!

I love this first shot, they look so intimidating and serious!  Makes me laugh!!  And, by the way, these are all shots that my lovely teachers took on their first day.  Sheesh, I love them!  

class-4.jpg
class-2.jpg
class-3.jpg
class-1.jpg

The Airport

For a change of scenery, and just because I have a love affair with airplanes, I spent the morning at Ulusaba's airstrip.  Think of Out of Africa, and where Robert Redford would have met Meryl Streep when she landed... That is where I was transported to.  A beautiful thatched roof building with hand made woven chairs and polished slabs of wood as tables on a spacious deck sunken right into the bush.  All you hear is the wind through the trees and the myriad of bird song surrounding you as three small planes sit silently below waiting for the bush pilots to arrive.  

Presence and I were the only two there; she runs the airport.  I poured a cup of rooibos tea, threw my camera around my neck, and walked down to the planes.  It felt amazing to roam freely at an airport, just me and three metal birds with no one else in sight, no security, no TSA.  I spent the next half hour walking around every inch of those planes, losing myself within their angles, patterns, and shadows.  A powerful desire came over me to learn how to fly, pull on the rudder and lift off the ground, watching the tiny runway disappear beneath me.  Then, as if appearing out of thin air, I noticed two pilots walking around one of the planes.  I went over to say hello.  James and I stood there and talked shop for a few minutes, as I mentioned I was a flight attendant and my brother was a pilot. They had seven legs today, all up and around the various game lodges.  It was all I could do to keep my cool and not beg for a ride in their plane.  James tells me they are based here, and live at the pilot's camp just through the bush off the edge of the runway.  I recalled how we heard music and chatter coming from the distance the other day while out on our game drive.  Our ranger told us it was the bush pilots, and sometimes they got a little loud out there partying amongst themselves.  We all laughed and carried on.  I was happy to actually meet them now, both of us beaming; he climbed into his plane, and I walked up the ramp back In to Africa.  

airport-2.jpg
storyboard061.jpg
airport-10.jpg
airport-9.jpg
storyboard064.jpg
airport-16.jpg

Nevermind

"I used to wonder why my parents gave me my name",  he says to me after he introduces himself.  "But you know, I do not think it is a bad name anymore.  There is a meaning behind it that is important, and that is a good thing."  He explains to me how in his culture, when a baby is born, it is given a name according to what is going on with the parents at that very space in time.  If your father has just died, you might name your son after him and his name might be Earnest.  Say your uncle just gave you some tools to build a house and you are grateful for it, you might name your daughter Thankful.  But there are other names which are not so easy to figure out, like my friend here having a chat with me.  It is a very sweet story, how he figures out the origin of his name.  "You see,"  he says "there was a lot going on for my parents when I was born, a lot of things were wrong, and they were figuring out how to cope..."  He is smiling softly as he stands in my kitchen relaying his story to me, and I sense that he has overcome his own trials in his young life.  "So, when they had me, it was such a gift you know?  And they were feeling so blessed."  His smile widens and he continues, "So they just said 'never mind' to all of the bad!  Look, we are blessed with a son!  So you see, it is a positive name!"  And I do see, he too has said "never mind" to the negative out there, and has embraced the power of his name.  

(Oh, and then he tells me a funny story of how to get back at your neighbor by naming your dog something that will upset them... And I see that a name is not just a name in Shangaan!) 

 

The cleansing rain

Today, there was rain.  The skies just opened up without warning, and the water pelted down onto the dry earth, soaking it to a dark brown and releasing all of nature's scents into the wind for me to smell.  I wish I could capture that smell here in words, or on film, it's like nothing you get in any city, or anywhere I've been before really.  It is mother earth.  I was sitting on the stoop with my tea and biscuits (a new addiction for me, I think I'll have to bring back 50 packets with me to the US), watching the rain pour down over the rocky, lush hills above, and decided I need to be in this rain.  I ran up stairs to put on my takkies (tennis shoes) and a cap, and hopped outside straight into the down pour, a bit surprised at how cold the drops were as they darted onto my body.  I contemplated running back to put on a sweatshirt but opted against it and kept walking towards the fence where the village met the bush.  Rain dripping off of my hat onto my face, my shirt quickly turning dark grey and becoming heavy with water.  It crossed my mind that the others in the village would think I was crazy for running out in the rain, but I didn't care, it had been outrageously hot and humid the past two days, and this was a welcomed reprieve that I was not about to miss.  I walked outside the gates, not caring that I was now on the animal's side.  I didn't go far, but it felt good to just be outside, in the open, on my own, in the lush rain... The trackers and I waved excitedly to each other as they all passed by on their way to pick up the rangers to go out for their evening game drive.  I wished I was going with them, but then again, I was happy to be spending this time on my own...in the cleansing rain.  

Sundowners

It's so beautiful, sundowner time.  I pull my chair out in front of my thatched roof home, pour a heap of ice and some white wine into my favorite goblet glass, and just feel the breeze, watch the sun set behind the koppie (hill), and listen to the local music start to sound from the round of staff housing across the way.  Birds swirl above, sprays of chatter and occasional bursts of laughter fill the air, and I sit in complete adoration of where I am in this special place in time.  The sisters have left this afternoon for the lodge above, so I am alone in this place tonight, as I will be for the next week ahead.  I find peace and a good solitude in it, able to sit and write, edit, think, ponder, appreciate... I miss my ladies (and young gents), but I am happy to have this time for my mind to release, and to sit in my own thoughts for awhile.  There are plenty of people surrounding me in this village, about thirty some-odd tiny homes, so I feel very comforted and safe.  

This morning I went along with David Khoza as he took some lodge visitors around Dumphries to show them what Pride & Purpose does in the community.  There were a couple women and their daughters from Brazil as well as an American newlywed couple from New York.  We visited a few schools, played with the kids, and learned a lot about this area, its history, and the people.  The rest of the day I spent in my new home editing photos and catching up.  The following is a little collage of some of my favorite captures from the past week.  I hope you enjoy... And, thanks again for following this journey, it means a lot to know I am writing to friends.  Much love, s.  

l'afrik_kids_bw-8.jpg
L'afrik_favs-1.jpg
l'afrik_kids-50.jpg
l'afrik_kids-36.jpg
l'afrik_kids-10.jpg
l'afrik_kids-31.jpg

Tizameleni

Today we headed out farther into the village to visit the school which our fellow volunteer Kerrie has funded, Tizameleni.  Kerrie is here with her two sisters, Helene and Adrienne, along with Helene's two amazing teen aged sons, Finn and Callum.  She fell in love with Ulusaba over three years ago while on safari and has since returned three to four times a year from England.  Her heart is totally enmeshed in this place, both with the children and with the wild life.  "The first time you hear a lion roar,"  she says "you are a changed person forever."  

The day today was hot.  The feel factor was close to 45 degrees, and the ladies were painting in the direct sun at noon.  It was scorching, but they wanted to finish before they leave tomorrow morning for the lodge.  Jen, who works at the lodge down the road, Leopard Hills, also came with today, and will be my partner for the next week.   We'll be returning daily to Tizameleni to help the teachers create lesson plans and get a program going for the new school.  She set up a hand painting station, and I helped funnel the kids in to mash their hands in trays of green, yellow, and blue paint, and transfer their colorful fingers onto a sheet of paper.  Their little eyes wide with confusion, as they were a bit baffled as to why these white women were dipping their hands in paint and squashing them down.  Of course, in true Shelly fashion, my radar set on one little girl who stole the very core of my soul.  I found out later that her name is Tabile.  She has the most infectious laugh, and that together with the dimple on her left cheek officially made her the cutest child on the planet...or at least in Africa.  

At first, when I found out that the sisters were leaving tomorrow and I would be by myself here at Dagga Boys for the rest of my stay, I was a little freaked out.  But today it all came together... Jen and I will be partners in crime for a few days, David Khoza (the other host of Pride & Purpose) and I will also be pairing up so that I can go around to all of the projects here taking photographs, I have so many portraits yet to take, and so many people to hand cameras to... I feel like I have only a blink of an eye to squeeze in all I want to accomplish.  There is no place on earth I'd rather be right here, right now.  I am truly blessed! 

storyboard010.jpg
storyboard007.jpg
storyboard009.jpg
storyboard011.jpg
storyboard005.jpg

Kids will be kids...

I wasn't expecting to begin the project yesterday, it just naturally happened.  While interacting with them and taking their photos, they all want to see the picture on the back of the camera.  They pose, then run to you and grab at your camera to see.  I showed them that the little arrow is the button you push to see your photo, and instantly had twenty little fingers all over searching for it.  They see their photo, giggle, squeal, and then run back to take more.  I found myself turning to one child, Danelle, and putting the strap around her neck.  I showed her where the button was to take the picture, "Push here" I said, she said "La", which I gather means "here", and within two seconds, she had it down.  She looked at me with wide eyes that she now had control of the camera, smiled, and ran to her friends to take their photos.  This happened with about ten children, then I ran to my bag to pull out my little green camera (which is about 1,000 times less expensive!) and let them pass it around.  The following photos are what they did on their very first day of taking photographs.  It was so fun to see them pose like little models with their friends, I saw their attitudes come out as they tried to put their most serious faces on to look cool.  Turns out, kids are kids, no matter if they live in the big city or in the bush.    

l'afrik-16.jpg
l'afrik-11.jpg
l'afrik-9.jpg
l'afrik-17.jpg
l'afrik-15.jpg
l'afrik-12.jpg

Familiar little faces.

The minute I stepped off the truck and onto the community center playground, I see a little body running towards me, her arms wide open as she barrels right into me with a hug.  It was my sweetest little girl from last year, I recognized her straight away.  She wore a red and white polka dot dress the last time I saw her, today she had a denim one on.  I said to her, "I remember you!  You have a beautiful red polka dot dress."  She nodded, I couldn't tell if she understood me, but she looked up at me and smiled with those big brown eyes and bald head.  She squeezed me again, then grabbed my hand.  Yes, I was back. This is what I had been waiting for.  

Then the others started running in, one by one, I searched their little faces to see if I recognized them too.  Yes!  There was the little guy that gave us all those cool arms-crossed poses last year, and the girl from the balloon shot, and then the cutie that had stickers all over her face... I was so happy to see them, I hugged as many as I could and then felt the insane smile overcome my face as they all piled around me, I didn't have enough hands for them to grab.  

As I looked around the community center, I saw the swings still standing proudly that Steve and Ted built, the play set we put together was crawling with children, the trampoline was dug into the ground (and had only just ripped last week, Lindsay told me, which I was astounded by due to the number of kids on that thing at any given time!), the garden we planted was overgrown but lush.  I walked over to the swing set and started brushing off the dirt around the cement at the end of the poles.  We had all carved our names there last year, and I wanted to see them appear for me again.  Steve... Ted... 2012... How sweet it was to see our names and remember the day we all kneeled around and celebrated our friendships and our time at Dumphries.  

We spent the next couple hours painting a beautiful mural on the side of the building, the three other women volunteers are Michelangelo incarnate, I swear!  In between (probably more honestly, most of the time),  I wandered out and around to find the children and take photos, cuddle, and play.  I gave them my camera and showed them how to take a photo and also how to see it, and especially how to make sure the strap was around their necks!  One after the other took turns being photographer, and in seeing their excitement and pride in being able to take a photograph themselves, I knew that this trip was destined to be.  As we left Dumphries, they ran after our backie (pick up truck in SA) waving goodbye and squealing.  What a beautiful sight.  The following photo was taken by a boy called Shade, a star photographer has just been born.  

l'afrik-1.jpg