In an effort to keep my mind busy after an emotionally exhaustive political cycle, I will attempt to update my long overdue blog (and promise to refrain from all political commentary).
So much has happened over the last year! Since returning to Pretoria after our amazing Mauritius honeymoon, we’ve traveled to numerous destination, I’ve quit my job, started a new one, and continue to enjoy life in South Africa.
First, Darren and I had the joy of returning to one of my favorite places on earth, Zanzibar! Stone Town, the vibrant and enchanting capital, blends Moorish, Middle Eastern, Indian and African traditions and architecture, making it one of the most enjoyable cities to explore. We loved working our way across the labyrinthine alleys, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of daily life in the city.
Plus, the beaches are some of the finest in the world. We headed to Nungwi, a charming village at the northern tip of Zanzibar, where we spent our days walking up and down the beach, exploring the sea aboard dhow boats, and enjoying sundowners while relishing the exquisite cuisine of the spice island.
And of course, we indulged in my favorite activity – of simply walking up and down Nungwi with my camera in tow.
Within days of returning from Zanzibar, my dear friend, Heidi called me on a Thursday afternoon to see if I could meet her in Victoria Falls the following day. I’m always up for spontaneity, so I immediately went online and purchased a ticket to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe only to discover that I actually needed to stay on the Zambian side. Fortunately, the two cities (Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and Livingstone in Zambia) are not too far apart.
I met Heidi at the historically famous Victoria Falls Hotel, originally built by the British in 1904 to accommodate workers on the Cape to Cairo railway. One of the more spectacular aspects of the hotel was its view of the railroad bridge across the mighty Zambezi. Cecil Rhodes expressed the desire for the spray from the falls to fall on the passing trains, hence the Boiling Pot location in close proximity to Vic Falls. I can’t even imagine what it took to build that bridge back in the day (or even now for that matter).
Today, this luxury hotel offers dramatic views of the gorges of Victoria Falls and serves as a reminder of the distinguished era to which it was born.
After high tea and an obligatory sundowner of gin and tonic, we walked across the border to Zambia where we caught a taxi to David Livingstone Safari Lodge. We spent the weekend exploring Victoria Falls from the Zambian and Zimbabwean sides.
And we even splurged and booked a microlight over the falls – a unique way to experience uninhibited and breathtaking views of the falls and the surrounding landscape – the spectacular gorge that the Zambezi River has slowly carved over time! I marveled at the meandering vistas below, and even caught glimpses of elephants, giraffes and hippos lulling about in the mighty Zambezi.
I loved catching up with Heidi, who had spent ten years in South Africa prior to her move to Zambia. And speaking of Heidi, I’m keeping her legacy alive and well with Karabo Asara Orphan Center, the community center she and her housekeeper started almost ten years ago!
Darren and I have been organizing community development projects and on-going fund raisers throughout the year. I’m so proud of everything that has been accomplished. We’ve identified new volunteers to help at the center, including a new groundskeeper to help with maintenance of the building and the environs and an after-school tutor to assist children with their homework.
And another young woman from the states dedicated her time to helping Karabo Asara build its administrative systems capacity and helped the caregivers develop a paper-based system to track children, volunteers and donations coming in to the center.
We raised funds for school uniforms for more than twenty-five children in need, who would not have been able to attend school without our assistance.
We built kitchen cabinets and shelving units in the center and replaced their ancient stove with a brand new one!
And we have purchased and installed heightened security for the center, including new locks on the gate and barbed wire around the perimeter. Sadly, we have had several attempted break-ins…not even orphan centers are out of bounds for the criminals.
Regardless, it’s been incredibly rewarding to work together with the community to identify needs for the orphan center and to strive collectively to find solutions! Once again, I sincerely want to thank everyone who has contributed money, clothing, food, their time, etc., but there is so much more to be done! Please let me know if you’d like to get involved.
On another note, an old high school friend, Shawn, came to visit last fall! She’s been doing volunteer work in Malawi and always makes the time to see me while she’s in this part of the world. On this return trip, we made a special effort to head to Cape Town!
We did all the usual stops, from Camps Bay to Boulders Beach to Cape Point to Table Mountain.
More importantly, it was just nice to hang out with someone from home. Shawn, I’m so proud of all that you do…and what a small world, two kids from Kansas meeting up on the other side of the world.
In July, South Africa hosted the 21st International AIDS Conference in Durban. I felt honored to be a part of this historic gathering of those working in the field of HIV, including policy makers, world leaders, persons living with HIV, and other individuals who have dedicated their lives to ending the pandemic.
This mega-conference of over 20,000 people also brought out some big stars, including Prince Harry, Elton John, Bono and Charlize Theron, to name a few. But the ones who inspired me the most were the courageous young HIV+ women who shared their stories of strength, resilience and empowerment!
These conferences also provide an opportunity for all of us to reflect on the amazing accomplishments that we have achieved and to remind us of the challenges ahead. It’s truly mind-boggling to think that seven million people are living with HIV in South Africa. Seven Million! Think about that…we have close to four million people on antiretroviral therapy, a huge accomplishment and undertaking! But still, we have a long way to go!
After the AIDS conference in Durban, we took to the hills of Magaliesburg for our dear friends, Jan and Jennifer’s wedding. They are both hard core rock climbers with a love for the outdoors, so it was only suiting that they wed in a riverbed at the base of the mountains. So stunningly beautiful.
And on a personal note, after four years of working for the bilateral HIV/AIDS program, I resigned in order to accept a similar position right down the hall for the Regional HIV/AIDS Program (RHAP). I’m now providing technical assistance for strategic information and health systems strengthening to ten countries!
This is truly the best of all worlds as we get to remain in South Africa for up to five more years, Darren gets to keep his job, and we can stay in close proximity to Joshua, our son! So if you haven’t planned your trip to South Africa yet, you have a few more years to do so!
I will save my next blog update for our world tour of Croatia and a road trip across the United States.
Sending much love and light during these strange times.
All the best,