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.