South African experience…

| January 5, 2009

From bungy jumping to visiting Soweto on children’s day, from seeing the very poorest and most violent parts of Johannesburg, every day on this South African trip was an experience.

I can honestly say, straight up, that I have just had the most wonderful experience of my life. I was so nervous before I went, wondering if I had made the right decision, wondering if I could I handle it and whether South Africa was a wise choice. Despite spending the entire first week in bed with a terrible stomach bug, every fear I had disappeared upon my arrival.

I was welcomed with open arms and made to feel a member of the Bushpigs family.

During the week in bed I never once felt alone. People I’d just met were continually checking in on me; bringing me food and water, coming to say hello and make me smile, and taking me to the doctors when I needed it. My experience only got better from there.

Bushpigs is an environmental education centre for school children (aged 8-14). They use activities and games to teach kids about the environment, and the plight of their endangered animals whilst having fun. I was able to be a kid again too and at the same time learn along about their precious South African natural wonders.

The experience was "full on". Each day started at about 5am; rising to heat up Milo up for the kids, then waking up them up for a full day of fun. We hiked, and rode bikes through their game reserve filled with giraffes, zebras, and 3 white rhinos. I got to play in mud, do the famous Bushpigs ‘mudstacle’, cook traditional food, hear African songs and dance with them.

I truly got to live ‘South African’.

I didn’t live with a host family rather I lived in a community that made me part of their family. From memory, South Africa has 11 official languages, and even within Bushpigs 3 or 4 were spoken – from Afrikaans to Zulu. They tried their hardest to teach me Afrikaans, but I just couldn’t roll my ‘r’s’ or get the deep clicking noise. Everybody found it very entertaining and announced that my accent would never sound right. Despite my best attempt, I came away mastering just one word – "Dankie", (thank you).

The ladies who cooked the food for the children were truly amazing. I have never eaten so much! They made me eat it the traditional way with my fingers, and laughed as my ‘delicate’ fingers couldn’t pick up the hot pulp! And, even though I had only just met and patted Ostriches in Cape Town I found their meat quite delicious. Ostrich spaghetti bolognaise was definitely a highlight!

Someone asked me what my favourite moment was. It is hard to even encapsulate my experience in one page, let alone distil it to one sentence.

Apart from work, I was able to see the best of South Africa with trips to Kruger National Park, Cape Town and (perhaps the highlight) a trip to Victorian Falls in Zimbabwe. Despite their country’s absolute poverty and dire political situation, the people were so welcoming, open and friendly. They had nothing yet they were so giving. Zimbabweans truly inspired me. We gave them what we could from some spare toothpaste we had and a few items of old clothing we had. I will never forget the look of amazement, gratitude and happiness that spread across their faces. These are things we take for granted as basic necessities but they have no access to them.

From bungy jumping, to visiting Soweto on children’s day, from seeing the very poorest and most violent parts of Johannesburg, every day was an experience.

I have come home with more confidence, and a completely different outlook on life. What we take for granted, is what so many people can’t get. Food, education, health-care, even personal safety, are non-existent in so many places.

But, despite this, the people are the most welcoming, giving, and friendliest people you will meet. They wanted to learn about Australia, and in return taught and gave me so much. Whilst South Africa is obviously a country still struggling with its past, it is a country that must be visited. I have fallen in love with Southern Africa, it has natural beauty, the most amazing animals, wonderful people and a simple way of life.

I have made friends for life.

I’m so grateful to AFS for a wonderful experience. I will never forget it and plan to go back to Africa very very soon!

AFS Community Service student, Clare Nash, has travelled half-way around the world to volunteer her time and energy to a local community organisation through an AFS Intercultural Program.