Bainskloof &Tulbagh, South Africa: Katsjourney Around the World: 17 January, 2003

Date: Fri, 17 Jan 2003 04:13:39 -0600
Greetings everyone!

I hope you are all doing well this winter.  I heard the States have been having some cold weather.  I am so happy to be experiencing summer in the southern hemisphere!  I have a couple of more weeks in South Africa and I figured it was time for a newsletter update.

Oh, thanks to everyone who sent me Christmas cards and gifts.  I received about 30 of them!  It was nice to have reminders of all the people I miss at home.  Every card and child’s picture was up on the tile on my kitchen wall until just yesterday!

My kitchen (and bar)!
My kitchen (and bar)!

Overall, I have continued to enjoy my time here in this amazing country.  I still have my Sundownerlove-hate moments.  But I have seen almost everything on my list and have met dozens of wonderful people who will be friends for life.

Last weekend I went with my friends Verway and Estee and their baby (and her brother, sister-in-law and their baby) to their family cottage in Bainskloof.  It is a tiny town in the mountains about an hour and one half north, northwest of Cape Town.  Actually, there is only a town there because there used to be two tollbooths over the mountains for the horse and buggies traveling to and from Cape Town. Sunset with Vewey

The cottage was rustic.  Very rustic.  I was warned about snakes in the high brush around the cottage, scorpions and the mean baboons that will break in and steal food, break open make-up and toothpaste and basically steal anything shiny.  They even creep in through the burglar bars, so you can’t leave windows open.  Remember, EVERYONE has burglar bars in this country, rich and poor.  So strange to me to see this sort of protection miles from civilization in a tiny village. Baby bath time

But what a marvelous time we had.  The babies were great and really traveled well on their dad’s backs as we hiked along the river’s boulders.  You see, all we had to do was climb down the kloof from the cottage and we were in this amazing riverbed surrounded by small trees and large granite boulders everywhere.  The river was crystal clear coming out of the mountains.  In the winter it is raging, but in the summer it collects in small rock pools that are perfect for relaxing, swimming, etc.  Some are deep enough for diving.  It was so pristine and remote, that I half expected a dinosaur to come around one of the bends.   It was the perfect place to picnic, read, swim and daydream.

Kat river rocks

The next day we had lunch in a small town called Tulbagh.  Trust me, this is the kind of place you would never, ever see one of those horrible tour buses pull up.  It is an artist’s community with lovely little stone guesthouses with thatched roofs and little wine farms.  It was like being in another world circa 1800’s.  Side note:  Some of you know this, many do not…The wine here is fantastic.  It is the best-kept secret.  If you see a South African wine on a wine list or in a store, try it!  Don’t scoff at the cheap price. It is just inexpensive.  A $3 bottle here is the quality of a $28 retail bottle in the US.

Tulbagh1 Wines of SA

So, this week I have been working for SARCS (South African Red Cross Society).  I am working under the direction of the National Peer Youth Director, David Stephens.    It is organized disorganization, as I expected, but they do manage to get things done…at a much slower business pace than I am accustomed.  The directors are all on a meager salary, but everyone else is a volunteer.   I have done a little bit of administration work.  We had to put together a report/summery of a conference that they did in December.

It was quite easy, but it took all day to do it.  Something that would have probably taken me an hour or so on my laptop back home .  There are long lunches and tea breaks and lots of smiles in the office.  I hear it is a fairly common work ethic in South Africa, especially in laid-back Cape Town.

With David’s department of all volunteers we do workshops and conferences for youth in trouble regarding safe sex and HIV/AIDS education.  One of the highlights is taking a rubber penis and demonstrating how to put a condom on it!  No, seriously, these kids need to be educated.  I am stunned at the attitudes.  Especially the “gangsters” (gang members).  They are mostly ruthless. They are so poor.  They have 9 brothers and sisters.  They don’t know their dads, they have never been hugged because mom is busy taking care of everyone (if she is still alive), and they are forced to quit school at a young age to earn so few Rand to help support the family.  The gang is their family.  And life is completely worthless.  That being the case, it is so easy to kill another person.  Life has no value.  It makes them hardened killers before they can even drive.

David is fantastic with these kids.  He has gotten many to volunteer around the office and takes them to church with him.  Still, they may listen to his message, but to actually get a child to leave a gang and change his life around?  Doesn’t happen much.

SARC logo Red Cross

Now, does using protection while having sex matter?  In the townships (where most of the poor live), men rule. They don’t want their women empowered in any way.  Women are objects from an early age.  So they can’t tell the man to use protection.  And the fear of DYING from sex doesn’t bother many kids.  Remember, life is worthless.  So the whole “It could kill you” campaign isn’t very powerful.  In fact some guys are proud to die “like a man” with AIDS.  What an eye opening experience.  I hope I can take some of what I learned here and help kids in need all over the world.

West on the N2 victoria bay
Garden route preview: west on the N2, Victoria Bay

Next week I am going on a driving vacation along the Garden Route with my friends Marc and Gerhard.  It will be a 5-day adventure along the southern coast of the African continent. There are caves and ostrich farms and national forests and a steam train for part of the route….plus amazing views of the Indian Ocean.   Then I will be packing up and doing going away parties (some things never change) my last week.

I arrive in Mauritius in Feb 1.  I will be meeting my old college roommate (from the Cambridge, England days) and life long friend, Joanne.   Put on your disco shoes, baby!  😉   For those of you not familiar with the place, Mauritius is a tropical island off the coast of Madagascar…perhaps 1000 kms east towards Australia.  Many wealthy South Africans go there on holiday.  It has been occupied by the Brits and the French and is supposed to have something for all of its visitor’s…splendid beaches, mountains, French food, casinos, water sports and malaria.  Yes, I will be taking my malaria meds again soon.

Anyway, as they say on the big screen….That’s all for now folks.  I will try so send another newsletter before I leave here.

I am thinking of all of you in my own special way.  You are all with me.



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