Christian Slater

In the 80's, I was in love with Christian Slater.  With his slicked back hair and his soft, raspy voice, I thought he was the coolest guy on the planet... Okay, maybe Johnny Depp was a front runner as well, but Christian, wow, he was who I asked the Weegee board about when I wanted to know who I was going to marry.

So, it figures that my ex future husband also has a piece of his heart here in Ulusaba and Dumphries.  I can just imagine the day when my lovely Mr. Slater was pondering what to gift his friend Richard Branson for his birthday.  I mean, that has got to be one helluva hard gift to think of.  You can't just get the man a coaster set or even a Picasso now can you?  Christian, being the ex man I love, got it perfectly right.  He donated a school, Akani, which means "to build" in the local language Shangaan.  

We visited Akani on our first stop with a group of visitors from the lodges.  It's a beautiful thing to watch people visit one of these schools for the first time.  I watched and snapped photos as the women in the group scooped up any and every child they could, beaming the most exuberant smiles you can imagine, and got lost in their tiny little faces.  

Our second stop was the primary school, Mahlahluvana (ask me to say it when you see me next, it's the most fun word!).  Mahlahluvana means "scattered bones" because there was a tradition of throwing bones down on the ground and reading them to see if that is were you were supposed to build.  Dulini was the first lodge to get involved with the community and build classrooms for Dumphries' schools. David explained to us that even though a school is deemed a "government school", all that means is that it pays for the teachers and for food.  There is no budget for a classroom, supplies, or even toilets. Not many years ago, the classes were just held under a tree.  Pride 'n Purpose came along as well to build another classroom building as well as a computer center where the children have access to the internet. All of the computers were donated by a lodge guest.  We learned from David just how important the relationship is between the lodges and P'nP.   "It is very special, the working together" he tells us as we drive through the village on our way back to the gate.  He hopes to build relationships with more lodges in the future, but for now there are just two, with one more on the horizon.  Personally, I feel it would be a vital part of any visit to the area.  And, after all, the Shangaan people are the most welcoming and friendly people in South Africa.  They are well known for their hospitality, friendliness, and consideration for others.  I'm not surprised to hear this, as each person I've met from here is an absolute gem of a human being.  It's a beautiful thing to walk on the stoop to offer an iced tea to the man who is weed whacking, share conversation, and feel a true human connection; feel genuine smiles from the woman who works in the spaza (food store) when you see her dancing and singing out at night in the bush; wave and say hello to each person who walks past during the day and see the kindness in their eyes. Here, I feel connected, even though I am still so foreign and have so much to learn.  But I do, and forever will, love and respect the Shangaan people, how they appreciate life to the fullest, and how they make me feel welcome in their world.  

And oh, that yellow hand print below, that is Christian's, and that is my hand on top.  See, the Weegee didn't lie, we were meant to be hand in hand.  

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Ntseveni school

Today, it was just Charlie and I.  He met me at the gate and drove me to three different schools in Dumphries.  My mission was to take photos so that we can start to rebuild the collection of photographs which had all been lost this past year.  It was also to say hello and see how things are going.  

The first school was Ntseveni Day Care, where I met the lovely Miss Sandra.  She took me around the two areas of her school, showing me the various class rooms and explaining the history of how each part has come to be.  It opened in 2005 with just one tiny brick building that had to hold over forty students. That small space is now used as storage and an office.  I couldn't believe that within those cramped walls used to be a classroom of 40!  She told me how Africa Foundation helped out around 2011 and built a larger classroom and also proper toilet facilities.  "Before that,"  she explained, "we had to just have buckets down on the ground with seats and we had to make a cover around them." Then P'nP came and helped to build another classroom as the school's population started growing, and now they have also added another which is just awaiting more furniture and school supplies.  Ntseveni has nine staff, and about 175 children.  I learned they get paid 1,000 Rand per month, which in US dollars is equivalent to about $100.  The children's 100R tuition helps pay for this, but it is still not enough to have food for them when they are at school.  Sandra shows me a small brick hut which is half finished, "That is where we want to stock bread so that the children can eat when they are here, but we have not been able to finish it, and we don't know when it will be done."  30R is enough to buy bread for the whole school, she tells me, but even if a truck full of bread arrived, there would be no place to keep it.  When I asked Sandra what she felt they needed most right now, the first thing she said was "a kitchen."  She pointed over to the brick wall where a woman was hunching over a pot and continued, "It is difficult to cook in the rain, we need a kitchen with a roof."  Other than these things, the school is alive and bustling with smiles and playful little bodies everywhere.  They have two lovely play areas, one which was built by the Virgin Unite crew two years ago, and the other which was donated by Pn'P.  They smile, laugh, and look at me curiously.  As I signed the guest book when I left, I noticed that I was the first visitor since November. Sandra says to me with hope in her eyes, "I would be so happy if you came back..."  I would be too, and hope that I do.    

 

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