(Ladies Weekend in Cape Town)
Hard to believe that the holidays are upon us once again…granted, seeing that it’s summer in South Africa, I’m not quite feeling that Christmas vibe. Regardless, these past few months have been magical, with numerous out-of-town visitors, quality time with friends, more exploration of this magnificent country, a new puppy and being a part of history!
(Red Horned bill)
First, my dear friend, Mona, flew to Johannesburg from Hanoi for a meeting – and I was fortunate enough to snag her for a few days prior to her conference! We took advantage of the proximity of Pilanesberg National Park just a two-hour drive from Pretoria, and road tripped the short distance to see the Big 5 (lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros).
(Gorgeous Scenery in Pilanesburg National Park)
(Stunning landscapes in Madikwe)
We ended up seeing 4/5 (no sightings of leopards), but had a phenomenal time catching up, being in the great outdoors, and reminiscing of our time together in Vietnam. I truly cherished every moment with Mona….quality time with dear friends seems to be harder and harder to come by. Although, I’m continuously searching for ways to nurture my friendships…
(Lions on the prowl at sunset)
I had the pleasure of seeing my friend, Chris, from Austin multiple times over the course of the last four months as she traveled throughout Southern Africa – using my home as her base. I have the utmost respect for her, a returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Zimbabwe that still zips around, country to country, using public transportation, hitchhiking, and whatever means necessary to reach her final destination. She’s the strongest woman I know, the salt of the earth, and someone I truly admire. Oddly enough, we spent more time together here in South Africa than cumulatively when we lived in the same city. Chris, I hope you’re able to return soon!
South Africa continues to impress me with its beauty. In typical fashion, we decided last minute to head to Madikwe for a long weekend, one of the finest game reserves and conservation areas in Africa. Situated along the Botswana border, 20 km from Gaborone, the reserve lies within a transition region between Lowveld bushveld and the Kalahari thornveld. As a result, the region is host to an incredible diversity of species from both ecosystems.
We stayed at Madikwe River Lodge, a hidden paradise in a beautiful setting, where one only needed to look out their window for pristine bird watching (Merryland and Koshieland, I can’t tell you how often I thought of you….and how much you’d love this place). In fact, I loved it so much I’ve booked a return trip for when Sami and her family as well as my Dad come to visit in April.
The game viewing was some of the best! The highlight was coming upon a pride of lions that had recently killed a baby elephant. We watched as they slept near the carcass, with huge, sated bellies – with the occasional migration to the watering hole to hydrate. I even saw my first leopard, granted FAR off in the distance. But the entire experience was magical…
For Thanksgiving, I flew to Cape Town for a lovely ladies weekend…again, with dear friends, Sara, Sadhna and Marina. We spent the weekend living large, fine dining, wine tours, and getting treatments at world-renowned spas. I often marvel over my circuitous path in life that has led me to where I currently am…who would’ve thought this small-town girl from Prairie Village, Kansas would hob-nob with the rich and famous at The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa…ok, maybe I didn’t SEE anyone rich and famous while I was there, but surely there was potential ☺
(Lions at the elephant kill)
(Baby elephant kill)
Again, I cherished my time with the ladies….women I truly respect and admire. In fact, Sara is now the CDC Country Director of South Sudan….who was recently evacuated from post amid escalating ethnic violence. I fear that civil war is imminent, and my heart goes out to the civilians in South Sudan…and to the aid workers who so desperately want to make a difference. Let’s hope that peace returns to the region and that our US Embassy can get back to functioning within its normal capacity soon.
On a much lighter note, Russell and I welcomed a new addition in the family…. PABLO, our super tiny and sweet Chihuahua puppy! I was initially concerned about Chico’s reaction to a second dog, but it’s proved to be an amazing move. The two are inseparable….playing non-stop.
(Amy and Russell at Nanhua Buddhist Temple outside of Pretoria)
Pablo is my little Christmas present to me! Sadly, Russell had to work over the holidays, but I’m still hopeful that we’ll take that camping trip through Botswana at some stage.
(Happy Thanksgiving from Cape Town)
(Amy, Marina and Janene)
(Sadhna, Marina and Sara)
(Amy and Ewa)
And finally, I feel incredibly fortunate to have been in Pretoria to experience the week-long events surrounding the memorial of Nelson Mandela, from the chaos of a Mission preparing for the arrival of an unprecedented number of US dignitaries (including the President of the United States, Barack Obama; three past presidents – George Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter; nearly a hundred other heads of state; plus other famous persons, including Bono, and Charlize Theron (who’s actually from Benoni – Russell’s home town)); to paying respects to Mandela at his Northern Johannesburg suburban home; to attending his memorial in Soweto at the FNB stadium; to viewing Mandela’s body lying in state at the Union Buildings; to watching his funeral on TV as he was finally laid to rest in his home town of Qunu, South Africa.
(Ladies dining at 12 Apostles)
(wine country – Stellenbosch)
Each day of memorial events brought about a different level of energy! On Sunday, December 8th, we visited Madiba’s home in Houghton, a lovely suburb of Johannesburg. There, thousands of people paid their respects to Nelson Mandela in a spirit of celebration. Solid walls of flower bouquets were formed, lit candles lined the streets, and notes thanking Mandela for his life’s contributions adorned the newly emerging monuments.
(Marina and Sara)
(Good times with friends)
We watched as the ANC military marched up and down the streets, singing and dancing and paying homage to a legendary man. I was captivated by the diversity of the crowd – whites, blacks, Indians, coloreds, all standing in unity, all hopeful to continue the legacy that Mandela began, for a brighter future for South Africans!
(ANC military marching at Mandela’s home)
(Bikers gather at Mandela’s home)
(Children paying their respects)
On Tuesday, December 10th, we left the house at 3:45am to drive to one of the many ‘park and ride’ stations around the city – as we were told that NO cars were allowed into the stadium. Newspapers announced that the Metro buses would begin shuttling persons to the stadium at 5am, and that gates would open at 6am.
(Amy and Asara paying respects at the Union Building)
(One of thousands of messages to Mandela)
(Wall of flowers)
So we made damn sure that we were waiting in line at Gold Reef City by 4:45am. Although lo and behold, no buses – just an endless line of people waiting and hoping to gain entry to this historic event.
(Heidi and Asara)
(Heidi, Bryan, Kai and Asara)
(So many flowers)
At 5:45, we began to panic….thinking all of the other Park and Ride locations were operating smoothly – and jeopardizing our ability to enter the stadium (as it was on a first come, first served basis)! So we flagged down a taxi (no small feat) and paid the driver extra as we crammed seven people in a car fit for four! We got as close to the stadium as we could, and then RAN the kilometer to the gates of the stadium – only to wait in more lines in the pouring down rain.
(People saying their good-byes)
(Time to celebrate – on the streets in front of Nelson Mandela’s home)
Ironically, the stadium holds almost 100,000 people, yet only one person holds the key to unlock the gate…not too efficient. Surprisingly, when we finally jumped through the last hoop and entered the stadium, not a single bag was checked!!! Can you imagine?!? No security for a crowd where heads of state from around the world were gathering! Shocking!
(The ladies braving the rain at FNB Stadium)
(Christy and Charys)
(Lionel and Charys)
And the next shock came when the rambunctious crowd vehemently booed President Jacob Zuma every time his face flashed upon the screen…along with the hand signal for change! At first, I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears….but sure enough, EVERY time Zuma’s image appeared on the screen, he received the same reaction!
(excitement in the stadium at Mandela’s memorial)
(A sea of umbrellas)
It’s a shame that South Africa chose Nelson Mandela’s memorial as their platform to let their voices be heard…but the frustration and discontent by his leadership is palpable! And the ANC definitely got the message, although it’s still uncertain if Zuma will remain the frontrunner for the ANC in the upcoming elections.
(People in the stands)
The acoustics in the stadium were deplorable! And to make things worse, in an effort to quell the crowds, the event planners turned the screens off entirely! Imagine the disappointment when those of us in the audience couldn’t see or hear the proceedings!
This only led to people chanting, ‘screens, screens, screens’! Ironically, the memorial wasn’t intended for those of us in the audience, braving the wet and cold in order to be a part of history in the making, but for a televised audience! We were merely props for people’s television sets!
(The World is Mourning You)
(The crowds went CRAZY for Obama)
But when Obama walked to the podium, the crowd was electrified! The screens suddenly came back on, and we were able to hear every empowering word that was said. The reaction was incredible….the sounds were deafening as people cheered! I felt proud to be in the audience, witnessing such a display of adoration and respect.
(Nelson Mandela 1918 – 2013)
(There is no easy walk to freedom)
However, the memorial itself seemed a bit lackluster…we had anticipated a memorial rife with music, dance and archive footage of Mandela’s life…instead, it was a litany of speeches that were barely audible!
(the main stage)
Regardless, the real celebrations were found in the upper bleachers and parading throughout the stadium (shelter from the storm)! Long parades of people singing and dancing, chanting and celebrating Mandela’s life. Definitely an atmosphere of hope!
(Christy and Lionel were interviewed 6 times…guess not too many people brought their babies along)
On Friday, December 13, we participated in the pilgrimage to see Mandela’s body lying in state. The atmosphere at this stage was somber. In fact, as I walked by Mandela and physically saw his body, it brought tears to my eyes. So moving and emotional….Mandela’s long walk to freedom has finally come to an end.
(Quite the dignitary line-up…photo courtesy of Heidi and Bryan O’Bra)
(Long lines to see Mandela’s body lying in state)
(Merry Christmas Music)
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
― Nelson Mandela
In the spirit of Nelson Mandela, let us all continue to live in a way that respects and enhances the lives of those around us.
(My baby boy, Pablo)
(Pure Bliss….Pablo after his first long hike)
Happy Holidays to all…and sending so much love from South Africa.