Home life & a gallery show

It's amazing how connected you can get with a person or a place in such a short amount of time.  I've never been one to like trips where you jet in and jet out quickly, but have always chosen the travel plans where I spend a long enough time to know the ones around me, get a lay of the land, and begin to feel at home... I can't believe I've only been here in Ulu for two weeks because it feels like I am part of a family here.  I only have a day and a half left, but if I think about it too hard I'll cry, so I will just keep cherishing every sound, every humid breath of air, every warm hello from the faces I've come to know and love.  

Today was my last class at Mawewe, and the first time I had to say goodbye.  I think Mr. Sibuyi thought I was a little nutso because I just kept thanking him, and I think I shook his hand and smiled at him half dozen times in my last half hour there.   (David, please tell him I'm really a normal person!)  Nthambi, Mavis, and Gerald met me in the library this morning, as did my sweetest Mpilo, and we went over things like formatting the memory card, making sure you wipe the lens with a soft cloth every so often, how to upload photos to the laptop, and encouraging the creation of a photo club.  Then, from my backpack,  I pulled out a huge stack of photographs from our week together and spread them all over the table, their smiles beamed as they sifted through the papers giggling.  I could hear their excited chatter in Shangaan as they taped the photos into the frames I brought them. It was really pure magic seeing their faces illuminate as their friends funneled in the room pointing and commenting on their photographs.  I thought I was going to have to surgically remove the cameras from their bodies, as they kept them around their necks the whole day, periodically grabbing friends for a snapshot or posing someone with flowers.  

Even with all of this, I have to admit that my favorite part of today was when I got to see the photos that the three of them took after school when they went home.  We gathered around my laptop as each one explained to me who was in the photos;  "That is me with my dad" "That is my friend, and my mother", "This is my baby niece, In English her name is Beautiful, and her second name is Thankful.  Her brother's name is Smile", "This is my grandmother making marula beer", I got to see a glimpse of their life, finally.  I got to see their personality, their family, what is important to them.  And, it was all possible because of a camera.  Isn't it beautiful, that a small piece of technology can be the thing that brings you together and breaks the barrier of different worlds.  Looking up at their sweet faces as they smiled and proudly explained their photographs to me is what I came here for... Nothing can beat how special it felt to be a part of this journey with them.  There are now three more angels engraved in my soul. So blessed, so blessed, so blessed.   

 

Here are some of Mavis's photos from her evening with the camera...

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The following are images from our nice little gallery show today in the library!

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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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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! 

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