We did not have much plans for Friday, September 4, as our game drive peers were headed to St Lucia for a boat cruise and Indian Ocean swim. We didn't go with them since we will be in the St Lucia and Richards Bay area for 4 days and 3 nights after we leave Zulu Nyala. Instead, we opted for going to a primary school, grades 1-7, and a village tour in Nompondo, Kwazulu-Natal.
The plan was to meet up with the St Lucia tour when they left and follow in our rental car to the road where we were supposed to turn off on. Our guide for the game drives were taking the St Lucia crew to their destination. We were on our own. Driving on the wrong side of the road, with a GPS to nowhere, and some vague directions. Surely we could find it, right? We did!
We were told to take a right at the top of the hill, go a few kilometers down the road to D856, which happened to be right across the street from D855. Once on that road, we were to meet up with Mdu (emm-du) to be our guide. He was supposed to be dressed in khaki’s and on the road waiting for us before we got in to town. Well, we didn't see him and just kept driving, on and on. Once we got down the road a bit, a local stopped us and said, “You must be lost.” Of course we were lost. Its freakin Africa and we aren't from here.
Once the nice guy let us follow him up the hill, we met Mdu on the gravel road and he got in the car. Mhu is a very soft spoken 20-something year old and appeared very knowledgable about the village, Nompondo. We started out at the village market, where people buy staples like rice, beans, etc. However, the most popular thing to buy was Coke a Cola. Mdu coached us on what to say as we went in the market so that we were welcomed, like Sawubona for hello, and others. Once inside, we viewed the shop, which was very small and not very many people were there. The locals were very friendly and let us in to take photos and look around.
We soon left the market to head to the primary school to see how they interact on a daily basis. They normally wear uniforms, with the exception on one day a year - and that was Spring Day Friday, which was the day we visited. Talk about showing their personality… First, we went in to the office area where the principle and secretary were counting donations for the food drive the school was having. This struck me a little odd, since 80% of the student’s families live in poverty. 40% were in foster parent situations. And aids is still prevalent in the neighborhood as well, with around 20% of the village affected. Talk about humbling…
The next area we approached was the first grade classroom. We approached it as any other classroom, not hoping to disrupt anything. Well, that didn't happen. Once we entered, all eyes were on us. Kathy had one camera and I had the other. They had seen other tourists with them, so knew what they were. What I didn't imagine is what happen next. The class was all eating beans and rice in a metal plate, without silverware. Thats right, with their hands. A bit amiss, I tried not to stare, but it was too tough. So, I asked Mdu if it was ok to take photos of the children eating and interacting. He said, no problem. Once they were all done, the students would go put their metal plate in the middle of the room in a stack. Then, some other students grabbed some water, poured it in a bucket towards the front of the room, and cleaned the dishes for the next time.
Once I started to feel comfortable taking photos of the kids, I started to get a little more bold and grab some portraits of each of them. That is when pandemonium ensued. I would take one photo and show the child what I took, then all 12 of the students would approach the back of the camera to see what I took and giggle and laugh and carry on. I thought I was going to cry with happiness, but I maintained. After several iterations of taking photos of th kids and having Mdu take ours in with the kids, we took off for the village. I will remember 9/4/15 for the rest of my life simply due to the fact of those kids and how they provided me a sense of being as they were so unselfish and so loving without much coaching.
We left the school and Mdu asked if I would get some prints of what I took over to him so he could share with he students. I promised I would get him some. We left the school and headed for the village, where some of the kids live. We approached this hill above the school and Mdu asked me to park at the side so we could walk around the hill to the village we were visiting. We obliged and began walking for around 5 minutes until we saw about 7-8 structures, which made up a families estate. You see, these structures are around 12 ft round with 6-7ft walls and a stick roof that protects from the sun and rain. Each structure has a purpose. The first one we entered was for the ancestors. It did not have much inside it, but did allow for family meetings to talk about family matters, gatherings for friends and other family to talk about village interactions, and a place to drink beer - yes beer.
The second place we went to was the kitchen. That is where we met the mother of the family (sorry, didn't catch her name), who was rubbing her hands while sitting on a mat while Mdu spoke softly to us about how they arrange their meals. Once done in there, we asked her to take a photo, which she loved as Kathy sat next to her. We did not go in to the bedroom, but after walking past it, I think we know why. I thought it was arguing, but Kathy thought it was someone having some fun. Either way, didn't go there.
That concluded the trip to the village, where we dropped Mdu off at his home and we were on our way out of town. We traveled through the town Hluhluwe (pronounced Shloo-shloo-wee) to see the market and interaction, but did not stop. I had a blog to write (you're welcome) and photos to download (you're welcome) and beer to drink (Im thankful). We had some (a lot of) birthday beers for Kathy at the bar until it was time to take a nap. Lunch was pizza, and beer, and the pizza was hot, and the beer was cold. Perfect combo!
After our hour nap, we awoke to go back down and join the company of new friends. Several were down having afternoon beers and more came around after their game drives. Around 8, we headed for the dining room to have dinner, where we sat with 9 others at our table, 4 others at the table next to us, and 2 others just on the other side. All celebrating Kathy's birthday with her. As we ate, we all reminisced about the trip we had so far and letting each other know which was our favorite parts. Everyone comes here for various reasons and it was fantastic to hear some of the top rated experiences from the diverse crowd. The dinner ended with our new dear friend, Princess (yes that is her real name) leading the charge of South African version of Happy Birthday, while carrying a homemade cake that I had arranged a few days before as a surprise for Kathy. Boy was she surprised (I think). Once that was done, we retired to the rooms and looked forward to the next day, where we planned to go to the cat reserve in the morning after breakfast. What a day. So humbled in the morning and an awesome celebration in the evening. Life is good and we are blessed.
|Kathy and the village store manager|
|A kitty cat outside the village market|
|School is in the blue roof buildings|