Life in Southern Africa

(Exploring Old Town Market in Lilongwe)

So much has happened over the course of these last few months. Work keeps me insanely busy! I’m traveling nearly 90% of the time, providing technical support to various USAID missions throughout the Southern African region. Granted, I’m still finding time to play on the weekends – perpetually striving to find that work/life balance.

(Buying material in the market)


(Here’s the dress with my friends in Chigumukile Village)

(And having dresses made while I wait)

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(Amy and Reuben – check out my new dress)

I’ve continued to support the development of Malawi’s National Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYW) Strategy, a multi-sectoral response to bring about positive change to this vulnerable population. I’m incredibly proud of this project and have loved working with the Government of Malawi to help them transition from a strategic vision to an implementation reality.

(Gorgeous girl in my favorite village)



And it’s afforded me time to reconnect with the people and places that I have grown to love in Lilongwe. Even though it’s been ten years since I lived there, many dear friends, both Malawian and ex-pats alike, remain. Plus, I have a long history with one village on the banks of Lake Malawi, Mchengawamoto Village; and always make it a point to visit whenever the opportunity arises.

(The Chief’s Wife)


(New baby)

On this last trip, I finally received a personal invitation to meet the village chief! What an incredible honor! Yet, one can’t meet the leader of the community empty handed, so I made sure to prepare in advance. I hired a driver for the day, stopped by the store to purchase loaves of bread, sugar, rice, cooking oil, tea and coffee; then made the trek to Senga Bay where I proceeded to hike to the village!

(Best friends)



Upon arrival, I was immediately greeted by my good friends, Congo, Pumpkin, James, Richard and Aston. These local guys run a small craft shop on the outskirts of the community. I try to support them every chance I get, and usually bring them a long list of names for personally engraved wooden key chains. If you haven’t yet received one of these gems from me in the past, let me know and I’ll put forth your name on my return trip.

(Inside the schoolroom that’s been built)

(Village Chief)

(Fish drying racks in the village)

As an aside, when my mom visited me in Lilongwe nearly ten years ago, we pulled over on the side of the road at one of the wood-carving stalls to have keychains made for Maia’s entire second-grade class. The expressions of joy when we ordered 30 keychains in one go was priceless. I even returned several months later with a handful of photos of Maia’s classmates, each one proudly displaying their personalized keychain! The beaming smiles on the Malawian’s faces resembled the look of sheer delight on the children’s faces in the image! I, in turn, couldn’t help but feel elated by the entire experience!

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(Bath Time)

(Village Life)

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(Heavy loads)

Going back to my encounter with the village chief…since he didn’t speak English, my friends served as interpreters throughout our conversation. Ultimately, he thanked me for the support that I had provided over the years (which honestly hasn’t been much – I usually deliver hard copies of photographs each time I return, along with food and treats for the children).

(Gule wankule)

(Lake Malawi)

(Jacarandas in Bloom in Pretoria)

He asked if I could assist with purchasing equipment for classrooms and providing salaries for teachers for a school that they had recently built in the community. They’ve already taken the initiative to build the physical structure, yet they lack the resources for desks, chairs, text books, school supplies, etc. I only wish I had money, time and proximity to the village to help see this through.

(Ladies’ Weekend with Mina and Maria)


(Lion cubs)

(Watering hole)


Sadly, the closest school remains fifteen kilometers away – too far for children to walk and too costly for transportation and school fees. Hence, most children remain in the village, uneducated with a bleak outlook for their future. Heartbreaking to say the least, yet a familiar scenario in this impoverished country! To all my teacher friends out there, is there anything we can do to help? Perhaps we can set up a separate fundraiser/GoFundMe account. I’m open to all suggestions!

(Wild dogs in the road)

(Wild dogs)

(Wild dogs after a kill)

Sticking with the theme of lending a helping hand, I flew to Lusaka to celebrate my friend’s 50th birthday and to meet up with Heidi, the woman who started Karabo Asara Orphan Center ten years ago. Heidi is a generous soul who consistently goes out of her way to help others. And seeing that I was there in early December, we used this as an opportunity to distribute holiday gift baskets of food and household supplies to those most in need in the community.

(elephants at the watering hole)



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(Elephants at the watering hole at Tuningi Lodge)

I felt privileged to be a part of this process; to physically go into people’s homes and witness their sheer joy and sense of surprise when presented with this unexpected gift! We delivered more than a dozen of these gift baskets, and with each recipient’s sense of appreciation, I was overcome by emotions…I’m constantly reminded how much we take for granted, and how a simple act of kindness goes a long way to lifting people’s spirits.





(Good friends)

In early November (I know, I’m backtracking a bit), Mina flew here from Malawi and joined my dear friend Maria (from Mexico) and me for a ladies’ weekend trip to Madikwe, my all-time favorite game reserve!!! We secured a last-minute special to one of Madikwe’s finest luxury lodges, Tuningi (highly recommended).






What made this lodge even more spectacular is that they recently built an underground hide right by the watering hole…I literally spent more time in the hide than on safari…and it was AMAZING! I captured unique perspectives and angles of wildlife from the safety of the hide. On any given moment, an entire herd of elephants would appear, each taking turns to play in the water or to quench their thirst.

(Caregivers at Karabo Asara Orphan Center)

(Bouncy Castle)

(Maria – the pillar of the community)

(Karabo – of Karabo Asara)

(Planting a tree at Karabo Asara in honor of Madeline Ehrlich, Heidi’s Mom)

(The ones who started Karabo Asara)

I even had gin and tonics delivered to me in the hide! Talk about living large – sipping sundowners while waiting for wildlife to approach the watering hole – all while relaxing in the comfort of an underground den. I couldn’t get over the abundance of elephants, zebras, kudus, warthogs and other various ungulates that casually strolled by. Once again, if you ever plan a trip to visit – we’ll make it a point to get you here!

(Celebrating Maria’s Birthday)

(Amy & Darren)

(Cape Town Waterfront)

(Wine Tasting in Constantia)

(Love the Cape Winelands)

(Camps Bay)

And the safari itself was also incredible. Mina put in a request for wild dogs, and lo and behold, we saw plenty! In fact, we came upon a pack of wild dogs right after they killed an impala. They were FEASTING! But what I found even more spectacular was the sounds that they were making! They look like regular dogs, but the sounds are anything but normal!

(Chapman’s Peak)

(Scenic Viewpoint along Chapmans Peak)

(Beautiful part of the world)

Maria and I were hoping for leopards, but we came across two cheetahs on the prowl for food instead. We gladly settled for cheetahs instead In short, Madikwe did not disappoint.

(Simon’s Town)

(Another view of Simon’s Town)

(Nice play for lunch)

On another note, Darren and I are still supporting Karabo Asara Orphan Center. We try to host quarterly outings at the facility to help raise money for food, to assist with projects around the compound and to raise awareness of the amazing work that’s being done. The caregivers, most of whom are HIV+, are all volunteers who dedicate each and every day to the orphans and vulnerable children in the Shoshanguve Township.

(Boulders Bay)




We are working hard to pass inspections that would allow Karabo Asara to be sponsored by the government. Sadly, we have a long way to go! We’ve fixed the electricity, repaired the outside water spigot and painted the building, but since moving to a new location we need to construct latrines and fix the perimeter’s security.




Most of the money we raise goes to food, as the caregivers prepare meals twice a day for more than 100 children, and to small stipends for the caregivers (approximately $50/month – but with seven caregivers, even that adds up). Our next Karabo Asara gathering is scheduled for May 12th. We’ll do our usual braai (or bbq) followed by performances by Dikogosi Tsa Mmino Cultural Group, the same dance troupe that performed at our wedding!

(Cape Malay District)



(Table Mountain in the background)

If you’re in town, please join us. And if you’re afar, please do whatever you can to support the cause! Here’s a link to our site:

For Thanksgiving, Darren and I flew to Cape Town for a long weekend. We hit all the usual highlights, breakfast in Camps Bay, gorgeous drive through Chapman’s Peak, lunch in Simons Town, a stroll along the promenade in Boulders Bay to admire the penguins. I’ve been to these places countless times, and it never gets old!

(Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens)




(Father and Son)

Wine tasting is always a must, with this trip to Cape Town no exception. There are so many vineyards in South Africa that one could easily spend months, if not years, trying to find your favorite blend. The difficulty lies with selecting which part of the winelands to explore! On this occasion, we opted for convenience and proximity to town and visited two lovely vineyards in Constantia.

(Distributing gift baskets in Lusaka)


(Lusaka Township)

(One of the recipients of the gift baskets)

We’re also discovering the ever-growing craft gin trade in South Africa. Lots of distilleries are springing up throughout the country. Our favorite is Inverroche, a hand-crafted fynbos gin. Fynbos is the major type of vegetation that’s only found in the Cape region. I’m sure they’ve started exporting this gin, so please look for it in your local markets!

(Heidi doing her thing)

(Pure Style)



And speaking of fynbos, we went back to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens to enjoy this UNESCO heritage site. Every time we come here, I marvel over its beauty! We literally spend hours just strolling through the gardens…and on this trip, we were also able to take advantage of a huge Farmers Market! Never a dull moment in this part of the world.

(Getting ready for Brenda’s 50th Birthday)

(Asara and her dog)

Finally, the main reason why we headed to Cape Town in the first place was to visit Darren’s dad, Frank, who is now in an old-age home. We wanted to see his new retirement community, meet the other residents and make sure that he was alright in his new living arrangements. Fortunately, we were pleasantly surprised with all the above!

(Beautiful Brenda!!!)

(Amy & Brenda)

We hooked Frank up with internet in his room so we can stay connected while we’re in Pretoria and spent a lovely afternoon together.

(Howick Capture Site)

(Howick Falls – our weekend trip to Durban)

I started off this blog hoping to talk about our trip to Thailand, but too much has happened leading up to the holidays! I’ll have to postpone our Asia blog…until next time!

(Darren, Maria, Aurora and Joshua)

Sending much love to all,