Happy Independence Day!!

(Karabo Asara Outing)

Even though it’s only been six weeks since my last update, there seems to be much to write about.

(Jeanne and Katherine)

(Rhino @ Rhino and Lion Park)


My dear friends, Jeanne and her sister, Katherine, came to visit us in Pretoria back in May. Jeanne is an incredibly talented dancer inspired by African rhythms and had been particularly interested in images of dancers from our outings at Karabo Asara Orphan Center. As such, she reached out to me to see if she could do something special for the orphan center prior to her arrival in South Africa.


(Wild Dogs)

(Giraffe at Dinokeng)

After numerous discussions with the dancers, DIKGOSI TSA MMINO CULTURAL GROUP, Jeanne decided to host a “Fund a Drum” fundraiser in Kansas City!

Matake drums
(Maria and Farai – purchasing drums for Karabo Asara)

(Nicholas – our gardener)

(Joshua eating Paella)

I’m so impressed by Jeanne’s dedication. She contacted artists, vendors, musicians and various companies to see if they’d be willing to donate items for a silent auction. The fund raiser was a huge success…granted, purchasing the drums turned out to be a comedy of errors.

(What a smile!!!)

(My housekeeper, Sarah, with her two children, Lerato and Gift)

(Beautiful baby)


Maria (from Karabo Asara) met me at work; and then we drove to downtown Pretoria (Commercial Business District – known as CBD) to look for the drum maker that I had been communicating with to purchase these hand-made musical instruments.

(Presenting the dancers with the drums)

(Jeanne dancing with Philemon)

(So much excitement)

(Maria with her five daughters (and me))
We went on a wild goose chase, winding down dead end streets, getting trapped in a police roadblock amid protestors, and begging officers to help us find a place to park in the midst of the chaos and demonstrations. And to make matters worse, our destination turned out to be a sketchy warehouse, complete with armed guards out front.

(We host a braai for the entire community)

(Maria helping with the pap)

(Hours of hard work over the hot coals)

(Lots of love for Karabo Asara)

Maria and I were both concerned, but it turns out that the front of the building was an annex to the Ministry of Social Development where they administer bursaries, hence security was tight. But as soon as we were escorted behind the building, the atmosphere was more relaxed.

(Pure Joy)

(Such Style)


(Love this kid)

We worked our way across a series of warehouses towards a tiny room hidden in the very back of the compound. It was there where we found Farai, the Zimbabwean Rastaman who makes drums for a living. I immediately liked him the minute he smiled…he reminded me of many of my friends back in Jamaica. We ended up buying four drums, two large and two small, for the dance troupe! And as an added bonus, we were beyond thrilled to support Farai’s livelihood at the same time.

(Shoshanguve Township)

(Community of Shoshanguve)

(Sarah and Maria – my two favorite South African women)

(Gorgeous Family)

(Maria is one of the kids)

What makes this gift even more special is that the cultural group has been trying to use their skills and performances to earn an income. Quality drums can only help this amazing dance troupe sound more professional.

(Amy & Darren at Karabo Asara)

(Loving the new drums)

(One of the dancers at KA)


Maria and I were ecstatic with the purchases! As an aside, drums are outrageously expensive – even in the ‘warehouse district’ of Pretoria! But the look on the children’s faces when they were presented with these gifts was PRICELESS!

(Friends in Hartebeesport)

(Love the view)


And the dancers weren’t the only ones who benefitted. As always, thanks to your generous donations on our GoFundMe page, we continue to support the daily operations of Karabo Asara! Our monthly expenses, on average, hover around $1000 US dollars – and that’s just for food and small monthly stipends for the caregivers, who receive $50/month for their time, dedication and hard work.

(Mexican Fiesta in South Africa!)

(Margaritas and Mexican food in Jo’burg)

(Love the flags)

Plus, there’s non-stop work that needs to be done around the center, from improving sanitation (we still don’t have running water or proper latrines), strengthening security (we are slowly but surely building a fence with barbed wire around the perimeter) and desperately trying to build the capacity of the center in order to be sponsored by the government of South Africa.

(Chula in Pretoria)

(Amy & Alla)

(And yes, I bought everything that I tried on…)

The accreditation process is costly and lengthy, so we’re trying to cross off each requirement one at a time. Slow and steady…so please keep those donations coming as every penny is going towards an amazing cause. My goal is to ensure that Karabo Asara is self-sufficient before we leave this country!


We loved having Jeannie and Katherine in Pretoria; and am grateful for all that they’ve done to better the lives of so many children in the Shoshanguve Township. Thank you, ladies!!!

(Lerato in Mohale’s Hoek, Lesotho)

(Me and my girls at my guesthouse in Mohale’s Hoek)

(These girls kept me company all week)

(Doing laundry in the hills)

In other random tidbits, Mexican food and culture is slowly but surely coming to South Africa! We attended the first Mexican Festival in Johannesburg – they haven’t quite hit the mark, but it’s a good sign that they even attempted to pull off this kind of an event. The variety of Mexican food and ingredients available now compared to when I first arrived six years ago is remarkable…I even found a lovely place that makes corn tortillas and tortilla chips! Now if only we could convince Chuy’s to open a restaurant, I’d never leave this country…

(Conducting SIMS at health facilities)

(I couldn’t get over the beauty of the landscape – and how isolated the facilities were)

(Lesotho is famous for its horses)

(Loved the landscape)

(We stumbled upon this group as we were driving back from the facility – of course I asked the driver to stop)

And for more random news…as you all know, I’m incredibly fond of my Vietnamese designer dresses! I get compliments every time I wear an article of Chula clothing. As such, I’ve been asking the incredibly talented fashion designers, Laura and Diego – who originate from Spain, to host a Chula pop-up store here in South Africa for the past six years….and they FINALLY said yes!

(Loved this little community who was gathering mid-afternoon)

(Too much local brew)

(Lesotho version of moonshine)

I worked closely with the owners as well as another woman, Anne, who currently lives in Hanoi but also lived in Cape Town for years. We spent months planning the events (one pop-up in Cape Town, and two in Pretoria). In fact, Anne and I spoke so much that I felt as if I knew her long before she arrived. Which made the entire experience incredibly enjoyable and fun!

(Basotho and headphones)


(Doing dishes)

(The patriarch)

The Chula Pop-ups were a hit! We arranged with the Community Liaison Officer (CLO) (part of the Embassy) to hold one event at our US government campus, which houses USAID, CDC and State Department; and I hosted a champagne brunch at my house for the second pop-up event.

(Playing on the swings)


(Meeting the neighbors)

(Loved her shoes)

I’m thrilled to know that I played a role in introducing South Africans to a little Vietnamese/Spanish delight. Meanwhile, I purchased more items than anyone…I physically can’t help myself! Their clothing is simply amazing (check them out at www.chulafashion.com). Am hopeful that we can do this again in the future…

(Conducting another SIMS visit)

(Women at the health clinic)


(Digging her socks)

Anne and I traveled to the airport together after our Chula Pop-up spree, her destination Hanoi, and mine Maseru, Lesotho.

(And digging her glasses)

(Mother and child coming from the clinic)

(Merry-go-round water pump)

Basically, I spent the week in Mohale’s Hoek District conducting SIMS, site improvement through monitoring systems, to assess the quality of HIV services provided at the facilities. The tool itself is comprehensive and takes hours to complete, and is often accompanied by a lot of stress and anxiety among health care workers. Even when you explain that the tool is not intended to be punitive, rather a means to identify strengths and weaknesses in their program they still get nervous.

(typical landscape throughout Lesotho)

(I was SO disruptive at school)

(Lunch Break)

(Pretty cold out there)

As soon as I landed in Maseru we immediately headed to this rural district, a two-hour drive from the capital. Our motorpool driver, Clement, was lovely. We chatted non-stop during our scenic drive when he divulged that he used to work for the Peace Corps. I remembered that my dear friends, Kathy and Jerry Herman, who served with me in Peace Corps Jamaica, re-upped their service and moved to Peace Corps Lesotho.

(Buying snacks at lunchtime)


(Love the hat)

I asked Clement if he happened to know them (they served with me in Jamaica from 1995 – 1997, and then moved to Lesotho in 1999). Surprisingly, he said not only does he know them, but also remembered that they served in Mohale’s Hoek! He ended up taking me by their old house as well as where they worked, the Farmer’s Training Center. What a small world…these kinds of encounters fill me with so much joy!

(Another day…another SIMS visit – standing outside the HIV Testing & Counseling room)

(Each SIMS visits takes up a lot of people’s time)

(What SIMS really looks like)

And speaking of Peace Corps days, there was something magical about the place where I stayed. This tiny guesthouse was in the middle of nowhere…no restaurants, no convenience stores, truly nothing! But I absolutely loved everything about it.

IMG_2978 (1)
(Kathy and Jerry Herman’s Site during Peace Corps Lesotho – Farmers Training Center)

IMG_2977 (1)
(Farmers Training Center)

IMG_2988 (1)
(Kathy and Jerry’s old house in Mohale’s Hoek)

As soon as I arrived, which was a Sunday, I grabbed my camera and just started walking. I turned down a narrow lane and bumped into a group of children playing. They all immediately ran over to me and wanted to know everything about me. One girl, Lerato, showed up as my personal guide (turns out, she followed me from the guest house and was the owner’s daughter). I think she was asked to keep an eye on me.

(Hair Salon)


(My favorite Toyota repurposing)

Regardless, Lerato ended up being the best tour guide ever. She paraded me through the village, introducing me to her friends, escorting me inside homes to photograph families, and describing the landscape of the area.

(Stunningly beautiful)

(Another one of my favorite shots)


She literally waited for me to return from my SIMS visits each day…she’d take my hand and lead me in a different direction! We first ventured directly behind the guest house, up the steep slopes, photographing all the while. The next day she steered me in a different direction, showing me shortcuts and introducing me to everyone that crossed our path.

(Exploring more of the village)

(Love the throwback feel of the rural communities)

(Typical house)

One of the SIMS health facilities happened to be down the street from where we stayed (and next door to the school) – which was great as it saved us HOURS of travel (the distances between sites wasn’t particularly far, but the infrastructure is so bad that 60 kms can take up to two hours)!

(Intense Sunshine)

(Sheep herder)


Lerato literally appeared at the health facility right as we were wrapping up our assessment. The team left and I stayed behind to visit the school and to walk back to the guesthouse. Talk about being disruptive, Lerato paraded me through the school grounds where I must’ve had two hundred kids following my every move.

(Fete de la Musique Festival in Pretoria)


That night, I heard timid little knocks at my door and two girls from the neighborhood wanted to see what I was up to. They plopped down on either side of me while I showed them photos from the day. That feeling of chilling out with the kids, and really listening to what they had to say brought me back to my Peace Corps Days…it made me sad to think my time in Mohale’s Hoek was almost over.


(Darren and Joshua)

On the last day of SIMS, we went to a correctional facility to assess the health clinic catering to inmates. Talk about a surreal experience.

(Amy & Joshua)


For security reasons, I wasn’t allowed to bring my camera – which I totally understand – but I wish I could’ve taken pictures of the prison grounds. Ironically, the entire area was stunningly gorgeous! The prison was located at the base of the mountains, with steep cliffs on one side, and bright green fir trees against a bright blue sky all around.



I simply couldn’t get over the beauty of the place…and then to go inside and witness the juxtaposition of the cold, harsh environment of a Lesotho prison against the backdrop of sheer beauty was difficult to comprehend.

(Face painting)

(My favorite band from the day Re Ono)

My heart and mind kept drifting to Nelson Mandela and his eighteen years of imprisonment on Robben Island. The hardship, pain and suffering he endured while surrounded by the beautiful backdrop of Table Mountain and Cape Town must’ve been a mixed blessing.



Robben Island symbolizes triumph of the human spirit over adversity, agony and injustice. And with the current political climate, it’s nice to be reminded that the human spirit will triumph over evil…I just hope it doesn’t take as many years.



I still have so much to write about…we returned to Lesotho to celebrate Darren’s birthday, but I will wait until my next blog update.


(Playing fetch on the driveway)

(Gift – Sarah’s Son)

For those of you in Austin, I will be returning on July 23rd for a two-week stint with my family. If you’re in the area, I’d love to get together.


Enjoy the 4th of July weekend, and stay safe out there!

Much love to all,

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>