I’d love to say that I dedicated time to writing a blog post this weekend, but I didn’t. I did, however, dedicate time to finishing the writing of a little song. I bothered to record it with the webcam, and for fun I added a few more tracks (including an empty coffee can and a bucket) to make it a little more lively. Enjoy …
What’s been going on that I have been neglecting the blog? For starters, school. To be the best teacher I can be demands a lot of my time. It’s hard to believe one term has already come and gone. I recently had to fill out a report for Peace Corps covering the first term of school, and I expect I’ll cover a lot of those topics in an upcoming post. But for now, enjoy this latest glimpse of Zulu culture as experienced through the eyes of someone who now feels deeply entrenched in Peace Corps culture.
Last Friday night, five of my PCV friends came to visit me at my site for the weekend. The main event was the Zulu version of an engagement party for one of my host brothers, Dumisani, and his bride-to-be, Zanele. It is called “lobola” which entails the beginning of the negotiations for how much he will pay the family (in cows or their cash equivalent) of his bride-to-be to marry her. (Think of it like the man having to buy the woman away from her family to join his.)
But the fun-filled weekend actually started Friday morning. Most of us were to meet with our local Department of Education managers that day at the Education Resource Center in town – a building that I would say is far too nice when compared to many of the schools in the district it serves. If some of the schools were as modern and well kept as this Resource Center, maybe the students would have better chances for success.
Anyway, in true Zulu fashion, the meeting which was originally scheduled for 2:00 pm was rescheduled for 9:00 am just two days prior. The volunteers (all of us still willing to attend after the last minute time-change, that is) arrived between 9:00 and 9:15. We waited in reception for more than thirty minutes while a receptionist tried to get the DOE attendees to answer their cell phones. We were then led into a conference room, where we waited for at least another 45 minutes before the receptionist and the remaining volunteers agreed to give up and scrap this meeting. We walked across the street to one of the local lodges and had an early lunch.
The meeting wasn’t a total loss. The volunteers had lots to talk to each other about, considering we now have one full term of teaching on our own under our belts. But, we could have done that at a different time. Keep in mind, if we weren’t attending a meeting that morning, we would have been doing our actual jobs: teaching children. (And, in these schools, there is no such thing as a substitute.)
So, our conversation continued over cold drinks and a lunch of cheeseburgers (that more closely resembled meatloaf sandwiches) and fries. We waited for our compatriots (who decided against coming to what turned out to be a non-meeting) to join us as their schools let out. (As a general rule, all schools “knock off” early on Fridays, though curiously enough, I’ve never seen a printed schedule that reflects this Friday anomaly.)
After some more food and more catching up, we journeyed down the street to the grocery store to stock up on supplies for the weekend. Those of you who keep up with my Facebook page already know that my friend Kelly in Phoenix, Arizona had recently sent me a large care package that included many important items for creating a fiesta of Mexican food.
The timing of the package’s arrival was nearly perfect for me to host five Americans who truly miss south-of-the-border cuisine. We just needed to buy ground beef (or “mince” in the South African parlance), a block of cheese, rice and vegetables; Kelly took care of the spices, salsa, chiles, refried beans, and – most importantly – the tortillas (flour and hard AND soft corn to choose from!).
Diana, Katrina, Michael, Shawn, Vanessa and I then walked to my site, which was already abuzz with activity in preparation for Saturday’s proceedings. That evening, in between figuring out sleeping arrangements and socializing with members of my extended host family, we cooked and enjoyed our Mexican feast in my little house.
We also had a chance to talk with who Dumisani designated as his negotiator in the lobola process: Mr. Gumede. Unfortunately, no one was really forthcoming with details of how all this works. Like most things in South Africa, we would figure it out as we went along.
On Saturday morning, we rose early enough to enjoy Katrina’s recipe for french toast before getting ready for what was sure to be a long day. I was in a suit and tie, as it was my brotherly duty to be dressed up for the occasion. Vanessa was in traditional Zulu attire (and excited that she had a good excuse to wear it, I think). The rest of the volunteers were comfortable in casual attire. We were ready to travel across the village to the bride-to-be’s family’s house for whatever we were to encounter next.
As I was reminded by Dumisani (and all of my host brothers, for that matter) on several occasions, I was extremely encouraged to take lots of photos of the event. So before we even left my yard I had started snapping them.
Part of the custom of the negotiating is gift-giving. Just to seek an audience with the family costs you the first cow and bunch of blankets (and apparently several cases of soft drinks). The cow was dropped off the night before. All of the other things and a bunch of people were loaded into the back a large truck. Luckily, the Americans got to ride in a smaller, extended cab pick-up. Add to that a few more car-loads of people, and you have yourself a lobola caravan for a journey that takes under 10 minutes in an automobile.
They were expecting us at 10:00 am. We arrived about 25 minutes later than we were supposed to, which is pretty good by the standards of “African Time” and how many people we had transported from one home to another. However, our late arrival was something of a faux pas as it pertains to the negotiations. Apparently we had already incurred a small fine for this. But, this is all part of a “dance” – a traditional, back-and-forth of haggling every detail of what happens over the course of the day. (I mean, really, come on! It’s not like there was a chance we weren’t coming; the cow had already been delivered!)
We got out of the cars, but we were just milling about in the area of the yard where we had parked, away from the houses on the property. They weren’t officially letting us in to their home yet. It was a bit weird. We could see them. They were all outside.
One of the first things I noticed was a large decorated tent. I knew lobola was serious business, but I wasn’t sure just how serious until I saw the tent. For an event to be tent-worthy, they had to have been expecting lots of people. Moreover, they were willing to spend the money to rent the tent, plus all the tables and chairs.
Next, I noticed the cows. It was pointed out to us that the largest and oldest was the gift cow. I’m still unclear where the other half dozen cows were from; perhaps they were just the bride’s family’s existing stock.
My best guess is that over 50 people from my host family were there, mostly adults. Probably close to twice that many people from the bride’s family were there. A group of this many Zulus means singing and dancing – it’s automatic. I’m desensitized to it now. But this was somewhat different in that my family was doing their own singing and dancing different from what the party-hosting family was doing. It was like a good-natured dancing and singing throw-down, and at least a little cacophonous.
However, the Zulus in my family were taken aback (and elated) when Vanessa (known to all the folks in attendance by her Zulu name, Sbongile) started dancing with them. She was already dressed for it, and she’s certainly not shy.
Plus, we didn’t have much else to do. We were waiting (and the Americans weren’t even sure for what). It turns out that this is part of the negotiation ritual, too. Make the buyers sweat a little bit. Make ‘em wait.
Finally, after a good 30 minutes of the sing/dance-off, we were allowed to parade ourselves over to the waiting family with all the gifts. We dropped them off, then made our way back to where the cars were parked, and to wait some more.
Luckily, the Americans were granted a reprieve about ten minutes into this next round of waiting. It was time to start slaughtering the cow! The oldest men from my family were in charge of this task, while the bride’s family (mostly the women) were on hand to keep the singing going. I get the feeling that traditionally we wouldn’t even be allowed over for this part of the day’s events, except that we were all curious to see it (and we were kinda’ special guests as it was).
This process wasn’t pretty, and I’m sure it was far from painless for the cow. But, there is a method to it, and even some honor in how it is done, considering they pulled out a special spear for just these types of occasions.
The first thing they do is tether the cow to a large tree: one rope on one of its hind legs and another on its head. Then they take up the slack in the ropes so it is fairly immobile and pretty close to the tree. The spear is unwrapped from a decorative ribbon, and the oldest brother prepared for the kill.
He skillfully moved in towards the beast, pierced it in the heart, and quickly backed off as the beast let out some dissatisfied noises. Unfortunately, this had to be repeated. By the second stabbing, blood was spilling pretty freely. The animal couldn’t take it anymore and had to sit. Less than two minutes later, it had to lay down. It was time to put it out of its misery.
Over the next five or so minutes, the cow was dragged by the men closer to the large branch of the tree from which it would be hung for cutting off its hyde. Once it was in position, they began to slit its throat. This is when I started feeling kinda’ bad for the animal.
Up until this day, it probably lived a pretty good life for a cow: grass-fed, low-stress, not a care in the world. Then, one day in its twilight years, someone decides it’ll be a good idea to tie it to a tree and stab it in the heart. It gives up and decides it is time to lay down and die. But just when it thinks its day couldn’t get any worse, the brother of the dude that stabbed it decides its respiratory system has to be discontinued.
It got bloody (or should I say “bloodier”?). The cow took its final breaths.
Now the men could hitch the rope that was attached to the cow’s head to a pick-up truck standing by to hoist it into a hanging position for butchering. After taking a bunch more photos, I had had my fill of this scene (as did most of the Americans by then), so I went back to where my host family was still singing and dancing by the yonder parked cars.
It was just after noon at this point, and everyone was getting pretty hungry. (The french toast from breakfast seemed like a distant memory.) My gift for the event was a batch of chocolate chip cookies, but I was clever enough to not drop them with the other gifts when we did our traditional parade of gift-giving earlier that morning. I knew they were going to be a gift for someone that day, so I didn’t feel bad when I had just enough to treat all the people standing around the cars to one cookie each. So what if the bride’s family missed out? Anyway, there weren’t nearly enough to give one to every person there. After I gave one to the (relatively) small group surrounding me, only two were left: one more for me and one more for the groom.
For about the next 30 minutes we took some more photos and chatted. Finally, we were given the ok to enter the tent. We were directed to sit at one of two very long tables in this festively decorated, white tent. Shortly after that, they started serving us refreshments of fruit, muffins, chips, and soft drinks.
So, Dumisani and all the folks in my host family – who had been enjoying each other’s company outside all morning and into the afternoon – were now sitting under a tent to enjoy each other’s company some more, except for the fellas who were still busy butchering the cow. The bride’s family was yet to join us. I took off my tie.
And, for about the next four or so hours, that was what was happening. It’s hard to decipher exactly how long it was, because when you really aren’t doing anything for so long, you get a warped concept of time.
Throughout that time, the butchering team joined us. Then, the bride’s family. Finally, dinner was served as it was getting dark outside. Everyone consumed mass quantities. (None of the food came from the freshly slaughtered cow, by the way. That we started consuming the next day.)
And then, after we had all eaten, the bride-to-be made a grand entrance to the tent. Now the families were all singing and dancing to the same tune.
The sky had been threatening rain throughout the day, but it held off from really serving us up a downpour until about the time the party was over. We hurriedly crammed ourselves back into the extended cab pick-up for the jaunt back to my house.
It became clear to me by the end of the party that throughout all of these events outside and under the big top, Dumisani’s negotiator, Mr. Gumede, was inside the bride’s family’s house, doing his best to get the girl for the least amount of cows. We waited so long for dinner because it wasn’t to be served until they had reached an agreement. When I asked one of my other host brothers if the negotiations had shaken out in Dumisani’s favor, his response was “he won.”
To cap off the evening, I had planned to bake another batch of chocolate chip cookies for my PCV friends. I put them to work chipping up bars of chocolate (since it seems to be impossible to buy a bag of chocolate chips in South Africa). I started mixing the other ingredients. But, we were talking and I wasn’t paying close enough attention to what I was doing.
I definitely put in too much butter. And, I realized after we started that I didn’t have enough treacle sugar (a delicious and abundant substitute for recipes that call for brown sugar). But, the biggest (Hugest? Most colossal? How could I have done this?) issue was when I accidentally mixed up my containers of flour and powdered sugar.
The cookies were a joke. I tried to fix the batter as I went along, but I still hadn’t realized the powdered sugar mishap, so all of my attempts were based on the notion that I had just used too much butter and an improper balance of white and brown sugar. I put the rest of the cookie dough (can we even call it that?) in the freezer to deal with at another time. The weird stuff I had pulled out of the oven was partially eaten by all of us in strange pieces and many crumbs (it did have nice big chunks of chocolate in it, after all), and the remainder was put in a tupperware in the fridge. We went to bed.
Even now, it is unclear to me how much of what went into that cooke dough was flour and how much was powdered sugar. All I know for sure is that I no longer have powdered sugar in my house, and I only figured all of this out yesterday evening.
Sunday morning, I orchestrated some breakfast burritos with the six remaining eggs I had and the Mexican food leftovers. They were delicious and I feel it was a step in the right direction for redeeming myself after the cookie failure.
All the PCVs readied themselves for the walk back into town, where they would find transport to their respective sites. I went along to pick up some items that I would need for the week ahead … and to catch up with Jonelle, our PCVL (Peace Corps Volunteer Leader), who was planning to be in town that morning, too.
As we were finishing packing up everybody’s stuff, Diana decided to give the frozen, unbaked cookie dough a taste test. To her delight, it was quite delicious that way. Everyone had a chunk or two (or three). I think (I hope) that everyone felt they got some benefit out of chipping all of that chocolate.
By late Sunday morning, it was back to just me in my little house, preparing for the upcoming week of classes and reviewing the 600-plus photos I had taken the day before. However, the after-lobola-party was just getting underway, right outside my door.
Dumisani was given a considerable amount of beef from the freshly butchered cow, and quite a delicious stew was prepared for the party with it and served over rice. A plate was even delivered to me by the kids. I joined the party for a while and enjoyed some more food. The cow did not die in vain.
But the question on all the after-party-goers’ lips was “Where’s Sbongile (Vanessa)?” Until the next big family event that all my PCV friends attend, I guess I’ll have to work on my Zulu dance moves.
PS: The baked, sugary, chocolate chip concoction that went into the fridge was subsequently consumed by mixing it with cream cheese and roasted almonds. It tasted so good that I am contemplating figuring out how to do it again. The unbaked, frozen dough remains … for now it is untapped creativity.
People love to share food. Some more than others, but I think this is one of the habits that falls more into the “plain ol’ human” category than it does the “cultural” category. My Gramma Lil in Youngstown, Ohio is a glowing example of this.
I received a home-grown, African pumpkin from a nice lady in my village named Sabathile, who I often chat with on my way home from school. We had a discussion about the differences between African pumpkins and American pumpkins (especially Canfield Fair pumpkins, for those who know what I am talking about). I even showed her pictures of American pumpkins and jack-o-lantern’s on my BlackBerry. As this conversation happened to take place on my birthday, when she found out, she insisted that I pick one out from her harvest. I took the one that I thought looked the most traditionally American.
I told her I would make pumpkin pie, which she said she never had before. (Imagine that for a moment: somewhere in the vicinity of 40 years of walking around on this planet and never trying a piece of pumpkin pie!) I finally made it last weekend, and was sure to save a piece for her.
I delivered it Monday afternoon to her daughter, as she was not in at the time. She happily stopped me on my way to school on Tuesday morning and said she wanted more. I thought to myself, “Of course, you do. Everyone always wants more pumpkin pie. It’s an unwritten law.” Unfortunately, that was the last piece. It was all I could do to not eat it myself. I told her that if I made more, I’d bring her another piece.
Later that evening, my host sister, Ntuli, came to my door and asked “Do you eat fish?”
“Yes,” I replied, as I looked at the clear plastic bag of … something … sitting on a red plastic plate in her outstretched hands. I realized at this point it was uncooked. No big deal – some of my PCV friends have started calling me “Martha” (as in “Martha Stewart”) because I take on culinary challenges in rural South Africa (like pumpkin pie and the pumpkin cookies I expect to be making with the rest of my cooked pumpkin).
Over the past six months, my host family has dropped off more than a couple different fruits and vegetables for me to share in. They always start off by asking “Do you eat [fill in the blank]”? (Even just this statement by itself also reminds me of my Gramma Lil.) I’ve had fresh papaya, fresh peanuts, fresh sweet potatoes – and lots more fresh stuff – not to mention more than an average American lifetime’s worth of fresh mangoes. However, this was the first time any type of meat was offered up.
I had already eaten dinner, so I had no intentions of cooking it that night. After a cursory inspection, it didn’t look like it was filleted as much as it was sliced. (Think of how you would slice a loaf of bread; I had four slices of fish.) The skin and bones (and whatever the rest of the stuff you wouldn’t eat inside a fish are called – I guess we’ll just say “guts”) were still attached, just sliced through. I think we can call them uncleaned fish rings. Honestly, it looked more like a science experiment or biology dissection than food.
I don’t know what kind of fish it was, but there was some visibly white meat in the center of these rings. My experiences with eating fresh fish so far in South Africa have been either great or horrible, and few and far between on top of that. Cooking it for myself would be a learning experience. I put it in the freezer.
This morning I put it in a large Ziploc bag (in case it was leaky or smelly … or both) and placed it in the fridge to thaw out while I was at school. When I came home from school (and a quick jaunt into town to print a few documents and pick up a few groceries), I started figuring out what to do with this fish.
Originally, I intended to try to clean this mess before cooking it. But how should I even cook it? If grilling was easy or convenient here, I might have thought longer about it. Even though it is pretty hot outside (and hotter inside my little house), I went for baking it in my electric, table-top oven (stoven, if you will). So, then I figured, instead of trying to cut off the stuff I wasn’t going to eat, I would just bake it all and let my taste buds sort it out.
Next, I needed to make it tasty. My first thought was butter. I always keep a supply of the real stuff (not margarine, especially here – I’m not a fan of South Africa’s “Rama”). I arranged the slices in my nice, Anchor Hocking baking dish (made in the US of A, purchased in rural R of SA), and spooned a big chunk of butter right in the center. I tossed in some cut onions and diced red and green pepper. I salted it all, and ground a nice coating of black pepper on top. Simple, but effective.
After about an hour in the oven, I took it out for a taste test. I went for the white part first; it was nothing to write home about (wait – what am I doing right now?), but it wasn’t bad. Then I went for the darker parts, which were closer to the outside of each “ring”: fishy-er taste, for sure.
So, after scooping out the obviously inedible parts and eating around the fishy tasting darker meat, I had about a serving’s worth of fish. I’m glad I had some onions and peppers in the dish. And the remains of a bag of cheese curls helped to supplement this meal, too. The following photos show how much of what I was given I ended up having to throw away.
So, I’m sure your next question is, “how would South Africans have prepared this?” Well, first of all, it would have been fried in oil (like any meat they cook on the bone) and made extra crispy. It would most likely have been breaded and seasoned much like it was fried chicken. Some of the stuff that I refused to eat, they would happily eat if it in any way resembled KFC.
Maybe I have a more discerning palate. Maybe I’m just a wimp. But, I’m not interested in eating the fish skins and scales and whatever else my teeth are strong enough to crunch through just because it is coated in a South African approximation of the secret blend of eleven herbs and spices. There are clearly limits on how much I’ll be able to integrate into this culture. Then again, if I were hungry enough, I’m sure my hunger would win out over my taste buds.
P.S. In keeping with a new feature I’ve added to this blog, enjoy a song of mine from the past that is (only in my use of metaphor) relevant to this post. As for me, it’s time to do my dishes and get to bed.
So, do you remember that half-marathon I said I was going to mostly walk in and promised to do my best to finish? Do you remember how I asked you kind folks for money for me to “run”? Well, it has been cancelled for this year. (This comes on the heels of a last minute date change, too.)
I’m disappointed, and for some reasons more than others. On the bright side, I am saved the possible embarrassment of finishing last (or not finishing at all).
I am very disappointed that I won’t get to see some of the other volunteers that I rarely have a chance to see these days. I miss my PCV friends.
But I am most disappointed that – after asking all you fine folks to donate money to the organization in my name so that I could participate – I even have to make this awkward announcement.
First, know that I am honored by your generosity. I raised nearly double the amount required for me to run, and had the race not been cancelled, I suspect even more dollars would have been raised in my name. You are great folks for doing this for me. I hope this snafu doesn’t preclude anyone from donating to anything I may be drumming up support for in the future.
Now, with all of that said, let me say that I’m not surprised. This is a good (though unfortunate) example of when one just shrugs their shoulders and says “T I A” (this is Africa).
Sometimes things go smoothly. Sometimes events happen as planned. Sometimes you’ll be a witness of some honest-to-goodness efficiency. But as long as these aren’t your expectations, you could live in Africa, too.
This may seem like a real downer of blog entry, but in actuality, it is like all important life lessons rolled into one:
- Roll with the punches.
- Expect the unexpected.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff.
- Be thankful for what you’ve got.
- Play the hand that’s dealt ya’.
Feel free to add your own in the comments. With your combined wisdom, we can author the next “Chicken Soup for the Soul” or – better yet – get Doctor Phil taken off the air!
On the bright side, even as I type this post, I got an update that KLM (the organization PCVs are helping to raise funds for) and other PCVs are looking into jumping into a different race happening somewhere in South Africa later in the year. It may happen, it may not. I know I’ll be fortunate for the opportunity if it does, and I’ll try not to be disappointed if it does not.
In the meantime, feel free to listen to one of my songs from a few years back about how typical it is for things in life to just not work out:
I realize as I am posting this final installment of my adventures in December that it has taken me over a month to put into words everything of note that happened in that month. Luckily, January had been comparatively calm, which is a good way to start a school year, celebrate a birthday, and get caught up with family and friends in the States.
Within a few days of being back in my village home, I walked to town and went through all the needed steps to get my phone number back and a new BlackBerry. Luckily for me, even in the primarily rural area I reside in, it is possible to buy a smartphone. I felt connected with the world once again.
At the home of my host-family, things were pretty relaxed. About half of my immediate host family members were gone for the holiday break themselves, either in Swaziland or Zimbabwe, on various church-related outings. My only host brother around was Dumesani.
There were, however, some new faces. Extended family members who had been gone for school in Richard’s Bay or Durban were home for the holidays in varying shifts. I was happy to meet all of them: they all had stories to tell and fluent English to tell their stories in. Thobile and Londiwe had lots to talk about, and me being from America with a guitar, a camera, and a laptop helped to make me the center of their attention. But, to be sure, the very-used and several-times-repaired, plush Ernie (of Sesame Street fame) I purchased in town a few months earlier captured all of their hearts.
Ernie had already been a favorite of the little kids around my house. I took great delight in forcing them to say the hard “R” sound in his name. Without any coaching, they tended to say it more like “enn-ee.” Because of my prompting, they now delight in saying the word themselves: Errrr-nie.
However, I wasn’t prepared for Ernie to be so popular with the young adults. Part of it could be the universal appeal of a Muppet. But I suspect much of their love for my orange-colored friend was the plain fact that I – as a white, American male in my mid-thirties – had such a toy on display.
Considering the extra-laid-back condition of my environment (which is saying something, considering how laid back it is under normal circumstances), I could focus on preparing for my honest-to-goodness vacation. Even better, I didn’t really have to plan it.
For the holidays, most of the volunteers were either going camping in the mountains or going to party in the city (or both). I feel like I am camping most of the time as it is, so I opted for the choice with running water and electricity. The plan was pretty simple: Christmas Eve I would travel to Durban and split my time between two backpackers’ hostels over the next 10 days with various other Peace Corps Volunteers.
Backpackers are inexpensive, and with a little bit of research, you can find the cleaner and more well-attended establishments. The two major drawbacks over a regular hotel are 1. (usually) no A/C and 2. sharing bathrooms with strangers. Also, you may be in a dormitory-style room, which means you also may be sleeping next to strangers (though, for a little extra money and advance reservations you can usually find a place where you at least know all your roommates and/or get a private bedroom). With the cost at a fraction of a hotel room, these drawbacks don’t seem so bad.
My traveling companion for the taxi ride was my friend, Vanessa. She came to my house on the 22nd, as her site can be several hours away from mine (in taxis, anyway). Also, my shopping town has a wider selection of goods and direct taxis to Durban. Of course, after the troubles I had gone through earlier in December, I was happy to be traveling with someone I know and trust.
My goal for this trip was to pack as light as possible. After cramping myself into a van with a suitcase AND a backpack on my lap, and then trying to wheel my suitcase through the sand paths of my village on my way back from Mpumalanga, I decided it would be best to only carry what I could take in one backpack. After all, what would I really need on this trip besides shorts, t-shirts, flip-flops and towel?
Better yet, Vanessa and I scored a ride into town on the morning of the 24th from Dumesani on his way to work. After a little waiting for the taxi to fill (again, a 14 passenger, well-used Toyota Quantum), we were on our way to one of the big modern cities South Africa has to offer.
We arrived in Durban in about 5 ½ hours, right back at the Teachers’ Center taxi rank that I had familiarized myself with just under one week earlier. We hailed a cab from there fairly easily and were on our way to the first of our two backpackers stays: the Hippo Hide.
The staff at the Hippo Hide is friendly, the pool is nice (if a bit small), the rooms, kitchen and bathrooms are clean, and the neighborhood is relaxed. It was a perfect place to meet up with other PCVs to have a quiet Christmas.
When we arrived, only Kelsey and Brooke were already there. The others would be trickling in throughout the next couple of days. But, Liz was also scheduled to be in Durban that afternoon, traveling alone.
I had been communicating with Liz via BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) throughout the day. She got to Durban shortly after Vanessa and I did, but was having a problem finding the Hippo Hide. (Unfortunately, her taxi driver seemed to be clueless.)
So, while we waited, the four of us decided to jump in the pool. To keep tabs on Liz, I dropped my BlackBerry in the pocket of my swim trunks. Of course, I didn’t think twice about jumping in the pool with it still in my pocket.
Splash! As soon as I jumped in I remembered that the BlackBerry, which I had purchased not a week earlier as a replacement for a BlackBerry that had been stolen not two weeks earlier, was in my pocket. I jumped out and looked at it. Surprisingly, it was still working, though saturated. I knew it could be a problem, so I shut it off and popped the battery out immediately.
The other volunteers (but it seems to me at the time, especially Brooke) were surprised that I wasn’t more upset about it. Well, what could I do? I could only be upset at myself – and trust me, I wasn’t happy with myself – but, what good would yelling or cursing do about it? The milk had been spilt; I didn’t feel compelled to cry over it.
Luckily, I thought ahead when I was packing. I happened to bring my other cell phone. (You know, the plain-jane time machine to 2003 that I had bought the weekend my first BlackBerry was stolen.) I thought I might swap it out for my BlackBerry if I didn’t like the perceived safety of my surroundings at any point. I never thought I would be swapping it out for my own mistake. But, at least I wasn’t without communication, especially if I were to get separated from the other volunteers.
My next step for the water-logged BlackBerry was to find some rice or crackers and a ziplock bag, in hopes that it could be dried out. Other volunteers have gone through the submerging of a phone before, and it seems in most cases they can be recovered. Time would tell.
So, I jumped back into having a good time. I wasn’t going to let something like a cellphone ruin my fun.
Liz arrived. We went to dinner at an Italian restaurant. John and Rachel arrived while we were at dinner, and met us at the restaurant. We made friends with the waiter, Dexter, who is a US born citizen, but has lived in South Africa most of his life. As he is still young enough, he intends to join the US Air Force.
We returned to the Hippo Hide, where we found Holly waiting for us. Our Christmas group was assembled.
The next day (Christmas!), we were hoping to meet up with Dexter again for breakfast (he was cooking pancakes), but our schedules couldn’t get aligned and it didn’t quite work out. We did get into a grocery store to buy food for cooking while we stayed at the Hippo Hide. Later that day, we had a smorgasbord, including steaks, corn on the cob, grilled vegetables, and even some Mexican food, none of which would necessarily feel like Christmas, but at least it felt American.
Later that evening, Dexter arrived with some friends and leftover pancakes that we reheated on the charcoal braai (grill). We hung out in the pool. It was an international Christmas shindig.
The next morning, Rachel, John and Holly were moving on to their respective next stops for their holiday break, but Kelsey, Brooke, Liz, Vanessa, and I had our next challenge to conquer: The Big Rush. If you have already seen the video and/or photos, you know what I’m talking about.
At Moses Mabhida Stadium there is a bungee swing. If you have the USD equivalent of roughly $67 (and are willing), they’ll dress you up in a somewhat uncomfortable harness and walk you up the several hundred steps of the arch that goes over the stadium and takes you to a platform that overlooks this impressive structure. Several big dudes hook your harness up to the bungee line with three heavy duty clasps.
And then you jump.
You drop 88 meters and swing out an arc of 220 meters. According to Guinness and his book of records, it is the world’s tallest swing. It is exhilarating. For as scary as it feels to be standing that high up, and then just take a big jump, by the time it is over you instantly want to do it again.
I’m very happy I paid the extra money for the video, too.
The five of us were in a group of 16 jumpers. Since I was the only PCV who opted to buy the video, I was separated from my friends; they jumped first while I waited for the videographer to ascend the steps. That was a little disappointing, but at least I made fast friends with all the people next to me in the line of jumpers. Nervous energy and huge grins seem to make everyone more friendly.
Because they hoist you back up to the platform after the jump, you also have to walk down all those same stairs when it is over. So, by the time we got back down to terra firma we were pooped. We grabbed some food and drinks at one of the restaurants at the base of stadium (with a few new friends from the jump) while we waited for my video to be edited and burned to a DVD. Then we explored some of the nearby shopping and a casino that is just a short walk away, ultimately heading back to the Hippo Hide.
The next day, my phone – after sitting in a baggy of crackers for the preceding 48 hours – was working. I was relieved, but I knew it would be best to get a new battery for it. (From what I understand, submerging one of these batteries can be problematic.)
Our group’s mission for the morning and afternoon was to check out the Victoria Street Market and sample the popular Durban cuisine known as “bunny chow”. Bunny chow (or just simply “a bunny”) is a curry dish (your choice of meat or vegetarian) served in a hollowed-out quarter-loaf (or half- or whole-loaf) of bread. I opted for the lamb. I’m happy to report that this stuff is delicious.
Unfortunately, the lamb was still on the bone. This wasn’t really a problem until, while I was pulling meat off the bone, I managed to squirt curry sauce in my eye. Luckily, Brooke had some eye drops. After crying through several extra napkins, my vision was pretty much back to normal and the stinging wasn’t so bad.
I understand that pepper-spray is supposed to be much worse than what I went through, by several magnitudes. This reinforces my resolution to do whatever it takes to never be sprayed by pepper-spray.
To add insult to personally inflicted (though accidental) injury, after we ate I discovered my phone to be completely dead. I was hoping it was just an issue with the battery, but a trip to a nearby repair shop confirmed that something was fried in the phone itself. I would be better off with a new one. The cost of repairing it plus a new battery would be over one third of the cost of a new BlackBerry and they could not guarantee that the phone wouldn’t need to be repaired again in the future.
In a knee-jerk reaction, I bought a new one on the spot. The thought of the runaround I seemed destined to endure to have this phone repaired was too much for me at that moment. My American credit card was presented. To make myself feel better, I minimized my spending for the rest of that day.
On the bright side, after returning to the Hippo Hide, we met up with two more PCVs: Katie and Laura.
The next day, (28 December) the (now) seven of us went to the beach. The beaches in Durban are pretty nice, very much like ocean beaches in any big seaside city in the USA, lined with restaurants and shops and piers. Not nearly as secluded, picturesque and serene as the beaches near my village, but it’s nice to have the option of getting an ice cream cone or a burger and fries in the middle of the day if you want to.
Of course, we all got sunburns to varying degrees, too.
That evening, we made a feast of Mexican food at the backpackers. We shared it with a couple of German girls who were also staying there. This was our last night at the relaxing Hippo Hide backpackers. The next day we would be checking into a party!
Tekweni Backpackers is situated down a side street of Florida Road, the happening part of Durban, with all the cool clubs and restaurants, and not completely out of walking distance of the beach (especially for PCVs who are used to a lot of walking). The place was designed for partying: a patio with a bar, pool, big stereo system, big TV, billiards, and picnic tables … they even have a hammock. Inside, there is a large kitchen, a sitting room with lots of couch space and a TV, and many rooms for when it’s time to crash. The fine folks who run the place are friendly and are there to party with you. And it is fenced off, private and secure, so we were safe. It was perfect for New Year’s.
After we checked in, some of us walked down the street for some groceries. Everyone seemed a little cranky from sunburns and lack of sleep (due to the sunburns). Spirits were lifted a short time later when we were introduced to a bunch of other Americans – Peace Corps Volunteers serving in Swaziland who were also on vacation had just arrived.
I found this delightful. Speaking with some of them in the pool, we instantly started comparing notes on our experiences. Swaziland is a much smaller country than South Africa. There are fewer volunteers, so volunteers from different groups within Swaziland seem to know each other a lot better, whereas, the PCVs I know really well in South Africa are restricted to my group, SA-26. Like South Africa, there are many more girls than guys, but at least I was no longer the only American male. That evening, I went to dinner with a big group of them.
In fact, over the following four days I found myself hanging out with the Swaziland volunteers just as much or more than the South Africa volunteers. In particular, I found myself shooting pool with Emily, Hillary and Chris (who also shares my fondness for Castle Milk Stout), talking South African history with Blythe and Jack, or just plain ol’ chatting and dining with Caitlin, Kelsey, Heather, Peter, Jami, Lauren, Abdul, and more. There were quite a few of them. Even with my friend, Rakeesha (and for a short time, Susan) joining us to reinforce the South Africa contingent of PCVs at Tekweni, the Swaziland volunteers had us outnumbered nearly two to one.
And then there was Clerisse. She seemed a quiet observer at first, but then I learned of her unpredictable wit. Her dedication for what she wanted to do as a volunteer appears to surpass what Peace Corps wanted her to do. After sharing my umbrella with her through the downpour on our walk to a New Year’s Eve dinner at a Thai restaurant, we ended up being each other’s date for the rest of the evening.
By the time the clock struck midnight in Durban, the Swazi volunteers had essentially taken over a room at one of the Florida Road dance clubs. I’m happy I got to see this group cut loose and cut a rug. In the early morning, we returned to Tekweni to see their party was still going strong.
Before I turned in for some much needed sleep, I realized that parties in the States were just starting, if they had started yet at all. When I woke up the next morning, I was just in time to post a Happy New Year message on Facebook to my friends and family in Arizona (thanks to the nine-hour time difference). Then, after some breakfast, I took a nap.
Being that the vacation plans had a built-in party recovery day, we didn’t leave Tekweni until 2 January. Before checking out, I managed to squeeze in a walk to and from an honest-to-goodness bakery with Swazi PCVs, Heather and Kelsey. I had some pastries and got a bagel to go.
It was time to say goodbye to all of our friends, new and old. Vanessa and I were joined for the journey back to northern KZN by our friend Diana, who had just finished up one of the camping/hiking trips with other PCVs. I split my bagel with them as we waited on Tekweni’s front porch for the taxi that would take us back to the Teachers’ Center taxi rank.
Village life and a new year in the rural South African schools were waiting for us to return.
December, 2012 Part III: Traveling In South Africa Is Like a Box of Chocolates – or – Trade Seats, Get a Burger!
As I was putting the finishing touches on this post, I heard cheering from inside the main house. Something must be going well for the ZA Soccer team. They are playing right now in Durban, and many of my PCV friends are there. I seriously considered going for the match, but I just can’t get into soccer enough to justify spending the money. All of my American (and non-South African) readers benefit from me not cheering on the “boys” (Bafana Bafana), as I’ve spent this time completing the next installment of what may be the most story-filled month of my life.
When I woke up the morning of Saturday, 15 December, the thought crossed my mind that by being with these people again, I was in someway being rehabilitated of all the luxury I had been experiencing over the previous two weeks and all the commotion of the previous two days. Specifically, I thought of the part of Forrest Gump where Jenny comes to stay with Forrest to kick her drug habit and stop drinking. Not that my situation was nearly that dire, but it felt nice to “hit the reset button” in a safe place with people who were happy to see me.
Mandisa and I walked to the small grocery store around the corner (Pinkies Tuck Shop) for some bread, peanut butter, and cookies (or biscuits, to be South African about it). After breakfast, Mandisa and I prepared to go to day-two of the Mpumalanga Traditional Music and Dance Festival. We were to meet Abegail there, as she was working security there again that day.
It was a much larger production than I was expecting, but it was so hot and sunny that most people sat far from the main stage in the covered bleachers of the small stadium it was being held. The field in front of the stage was vacant, but it was clear that by the night it would be filled with people. I was exhausted most of the day, and at one point I even fell asleep in the bleachers. When it started getting dark, Mandisa and I grabbed a taxi back to the house. As Mama was finishing the preparation of dinner, I shared some of my favorite scenes from Singin’ in the Rain and Swing Time on my laptop. It was cool to have a bit of a cultural exchange after all the African dancing we watched earlier that day.
I was then treated to another nice, home cooked dinner (by candlelight). In the middle of dinner, Sabelo, one of the brothers in my family there – and a sometimes resident at the house – walked in and exclaimed he could only see me sitting there because of the color of my skin. We all had a laugh over that as he joined us in our dim dining. Afterwards, with no electricity other than what was stored up on the battery of my laptop, we all turned in for the evening.
On Sunday morning, I was feeling good. I got out of bed, cleaned myself up for the day and made my way outside.
I turned the corner on my way to the toilet, and saw a goat that didn’t belong to the family (as they don’t own any) scrounging around the yard. On my way back from the outhouse, I saw Mandisa washing clothes around the front of the house and let her know about the goat. She picked up a handful of gravel to chorale it out of the yard. (The girl’s got a good arm AND good aim, by the way.) The goat darted through the open part of the gate where it apparently got in.
As I walked with her past their small mango tree, a wasp (or some other kind of biting, flying pest) flew down the back of my shirt through the neck hole and started to bite my back. I let out some surely strange yelps as I ripped off my shirt. Apparently this pest has been a problem in the past for Baba, as he was bit on the face and the ear, which I was told caused him some swelling. Luckily, swelling wasn’t a problem for me. Mama helped me put some anti-itch cream on all the bites. (It was fortunate that I had brought it with me for a mosquito bite I received right before leaving my site over two weeks earlier.)
In the late morning, Abegail accompanied me to a neighboring town that has a rather large shopping center. My plan was to have a temporary replacement phone and a bus ticket on a private bus line from Pretoria to Durban for Monday, and I needed to have these things before heading back to Watervaal.
The phone I bought cost about the equivalent of $15 USD, and to use it feels like stepping back in time – at least from a technological standpoint. But, I was in a tight spot and it was more than adequate. To make it work, all I had to do was insert the SIM card from my 3G modem and I was reconnected to the outside world.
The bus ticket was to be purchased at the Shoprite grocery store. My first choice of bus line and time was already sold out. My next choice was the Intercape bus line, with more stops along the way and a little bit higher cost, but it would have me departing Pretoria at 9:30 and arriving in Durban by 6:00 pm – not perfect, but good enough. I handed over my credit card, signed on the line, and waited for my ticket.
But things weren’t to be that easy. When the lady at the service counter of the grocery store tried to print the ticket I had just purchased, she discovered the ticket printer was not working. I asked her if she knew if my reservation was still in Intercape’s system, and that if she could just print a receipt for me that I could take to the bus station and have my ticket printed there. She looked at me with a blank stare and said “But I can’t print your ticket.”
So, without knowing for sure if I had a reservation for the bus or not, I thought it best to get a refund. But then I still needed to get a ticket. My thoughts: “I can deal with this. Intercape also has online ticket sales. I’ll just go back with Abegail and first thing when I walk in the door, I’ll logon and buy one. No problem.”
She began to process my refund. Because they are a grocery store, they are used to taking returns of merchandise. So she asks me to sign a type of returns ledger that requires all my contact details: address, phone number, etc.
This was the point in which I lost my cool. This lady – as a matter of protocol – was asking me for personal information that she clearly did not need. She didn’t need these details to sell me a ticket, why on earth would she need it to return my money for a ticket she was incapable of producing?
“My address?! You want my address?!?! For what? You didn’t even sell me anything, because YOUR printer doesn’t work! Are you going to track me down when your printer is working again to make sure you get me a ticket?” In the address blank I wrote in large letters “USA”, scribbled my signature, grabbed my return receipt, and walked out.
Of course, this poor lady was taking the brunt of all my frustrations from the past several days just because she was following the steps for processing a return at their store. She had probably seen hundreds of other customers before me that day and was in no state of mind to single out my unique situation. Abegail could tell I was stressed out.
We returned home with only one of the two objectives met. I got back on my computer and quickly secured a reservation for the same bus (a few bucks cheaper, too). Now I just had to figure out how I would be in Pretoria by 9 am the following day. I asked Abegail for her suggestion: “Don’t take the public busses – take a taxi!” Good advice, but then Sabelo pipes up, “Tomorrow is a holiday – there won’t be any taxis or busses.”
My heart sank. This was not what I wanted to hear. But he was right about it being a public holiday that Monday. South Africa celebrates the Day of Reconciliation on 16 December, and because that was a Sunday, it was observed on Monday. I knew this, but didn’t think to make sure public transportation would be in service.
After some more discussion, Abegail suggested I ask Jafta, the eldest brother of the family, to drive me. He was expected to come for a visit later that day as it was, and time permitting, he would take me, Abegail and Mandisa to his house to visit with his wife and kids. That seemed like a good plan. I had never been to Jafta’s house the whole time I was staying with the family during Pre-Service Training. I had only seen some pictures of it and knew that it was very nice, even though still unfinished.
Throughout the day, no one could seem to get ahold of Jafta. I’m sure I was visibly nervous about possibly having wasted money on a bus ticket that I couldn’t get to the bus station for. Mama resorted to calling some people that may or may not have been private taxi drivers … seemingly, anyone she knew of who might be a driver for hire the next day.
I packed my bags as it was getting dark. We ate dinner. We even had dessert. I resigned myself to the fact that Jafta wasn’t coming, and announced as much to the family. I figured I would get up really early and take my chances for finding some kind of transport to Pretoria on my own. Even on a holiday, money would surely talk someone into getting me there. I grabbed the bag of small toys that I brought for Jafta’s kids, and showed them off to the rest of the family by candlelight.
Then, as if out of a movie, we see headlights. Jafta had arrived! I explained to him my situation, and he offered to take me; I was happy to pay him for gasoline and his trouble. Finally, I had a solid plan. (I think Mama had prompted him in an earlier message that I would be asking him, but I’m still not sure. Abegail said it was important that I ask him; in other words, they weren’t going to ask for me. Still, he seemed to know of my predicament before I even started talking.)
As it was so late, Abegail and Mandisa wouldn’t be heading over to visit his house with me. Instead, I would just go to his place to spend the night there so that first thing in the morning, he could drive me to Pretoria.
When we arrived at Jafta’s house, all I could think of was how incredible it is. It looks like a house that a big-time drug dealer would live in on Miami Vice … except it was visibly unfinished in some areas and had no air conditioning (which it really could use), and they seem to have a bit of a mosquito problem.
Jafta’s kids were staying with his wife’s folks for the night, since he and his wife both had to work late that day. (He’s in construction and she’s a nurse.) She prepared a meal for him, and in true South African style, I was given a big ol’ plate of food, too. I told her I already ate, but she insisted. It was delicious, and I ate it all. Of course, it was totally unnecessary, but it’s hard for me to turn down food when the plate is already made up.
In the morning, I was brought a bucket of warm water for bathing. I bathed in a plastic basin, as is my usual custom. However, I was actually bathing in a bathroom and the bucket was sitting where, clearly, a shower is intended to be installed. C’est la vie.
Stranger still, I managed to get no less than seven(!) mosquito bites (or some other kind of insect bite) on the bottom of each of my feet in the process. I didn’t even know it until I was drying them off. That tube of anti-itch cream was again put to good use.
Then, we quickly loaded my luggage into his truck and managed to leave earlier than we planned. (This is a very un-African circumstance.) We were originally allowing for two hours travel time, but left nearly a half hour ahead of schedule. There was very light traffic on the way into Pretoria, I’m sure due to the holiday. However, we passed several public busses on the way, and a handful of taxis. I then felt bad that Jafta had gone out of his way for me, but in an African context, I’m sure he thought nothing of it.
With leaving almost 30 minutes early and traveling in light traffic, I arrived at the bus station shortly after 8:00 am. I didn’t need to be there until 9:00 for a 9:30 departure. I offered to buy Jafta breakfast, but he was eager to get back to Watervaal – I know he had lots of work to do that day.
I confirmed my reservation at the Intercape ticket counter. I was still hoping to get some breakfast for myself, but unlike the Marabastad bus station or any taxi rank I’ve ever been to in South Africa, there wasn’t a hawker to be found (that is, the people who walk around trying to sell food, beverages, cell phone airtime, and various other goods). There was only one restaurant in the bus station and it wasn’t open yet. Being hungry is nothing compared to other travel mishaps I’ve endured recently. So, since I had some time to kill, I called my friend and fellow PCV, Vanessa, and brought her up to speed on the trials and tribulations of my weekend.
Thankfully, the Intercape bus line is run very well. I had a baggage claim ticket for my suitcase, I dealt with very pleasant staff, they had snacks for sale on board (probably why there were no hawkers allowed at the bus terminal), and no problems along the way.
What I wasn’t expecting is that they are a super Christian organization. There were prayers at every stop, christian-themed movies shown throughout the ride and even my fellow-passengers felt the need to bless me.
A guy sitting across from me, who had boarded at a later stop with his family asked if he could trade seats with me, right after I pulled a bunch of things out of my backpack. I guess my body language said it was really an inconvenience for me. He started apologizing right away, and said that he just wanted to sit next to his wife so their toddler son could stretch out on their laps. I said, “It’s okay … we can trade, just give me a moment to collect my things.” He blessed me.
The rest of the ride, he offered me some of whatever he had: cookies, Coke, chips, whatever. I declined. Then we got to a rest stop about lunch time. I went inside to get a burger. He saw me in line and insisted he buy it for me. I let him. He blessed me again. When we stopped in Pietermaritzburg, he and his family got off the bus, but not without him blessing me one last time. But really, how could I complain? Trade seats, get a burger!
Also, towards the last couple hours of the trip, a little girl sitting a few seats up and caddy-corner of me started to play peek-a-boo with me. She reminded me very much of my cousin’s daughter, Olivia. After the stop in PMB, the girl’s mother noticed, and she struck up a conversation with me. She could tell right off that I was American from my accent. There were plenty of open seats by this time, so it was easy for me to move up and sit next to her. Lorraine is a native South African of Indian descent, divorced, two-kids, and English is one of her first languages. It was really nice to actually talk to someone for the last hour or so of the trip.
The bus finally arrived at the station in Durban. I got off, grabbed my suitcase and said goodbye to my new friends.
My plan was to meet up with my friends, George and Eva, who were staying in Durban as part of their holiday time. As they are also PCVs, they were staying on-the-cheap at a backpackers there. George had already given me the address and the number for a taxi. I didn’t need to call for a taxi, though, as there were plenty waiting at the bus station. Apparently these taxi drivers weren’t taking this holiday off, either!
I called George and Eva while en route, and within minutes I was walking up the steps of Surf and the City – an old, large house that was converted to a backpackers’ hostel. I found it really cozy and I would probably stay there again. After telling my friends about all of my adventures from the weekend, the three of us took turns cleaning up for the evening and then we headed to Florida Street for dinner.
On our walk to find a restaurant, Eva suggested an experiment for dinner: we would all attempt to pass ourselves off as being of the upper class of the Southern US, through the use of that specific accent and manner of speaking. Then, we settled on an Italian restaurant. All of the people working there were South Africans, so it seemed as good a place as any for this experiment.
The food wasn’t bad, but it was clear we weren’t in an American Italian restaurant. (No bread served with pasta dishes? What?) We must have been doing okay with our experiment, too, as our server asked us shortly after we sat down if we were from Texas. I declared I was from Greenbow, Alabama. (Forrest Gump was still on my brain, apparently.) Miss Eva quickly said she was from Tennessee, which is true. Then, Mr. George, almost breaking character, said he was from South Carolina. (Keep in mind that George is from California and of Japanese descent.) We must have passed the test, though, because nearly everyone else who worked there – at different points throughout our evening – had a reason to visit our table. I’m pretty sure they just wanted to hear us talk. It was a whole mess of fun, I do declare.
We came back to Surf and the City and ended up having a nice long conversation with a young Australian couple (Tim and Grace) in the living room there. I even got to pick a little on an acoustic guitar that was sitting in the corner. We turned in for the evening with a plan for getting some good coffee with our breakfast in the morning.
The next morning, we did just that. In addition to good coffee, I had a croissant with eggs and cheese, and before long, the accents returned and kept going about 75% of the time we were talking with each other. Later that morning, after Eva and I traded some music and movies on our computers, I was on my way to the taxi rank in Durban called Teachers’ Center (I guess because it is adjacent to a large building that says “Teachers’ Center,” but I’m still unclear as to what happens at a building with such a name).
I was finally on my way back to my home in the Northern part of KZN, cramped with my suitcase and my backpack into one seat of a well-used 14 passenger Toyota Quantum – the gold standard of cheap transportation in South Africa. Nearly six uncomfortable hours later, I was back in my shopping town, and I quickly found a taxi to take me the short distance up the tar road to my village. I dragged my suitcase through the sandy roads all the way to my little house, and breathed a sigh of relief. I was so happy to be home that I knew it truly is my new home.
I had a little under a week to relax at home before I was to be off on my next adventure: back to Durban. But this time, I would be meeting up with other friends, spending time on a beach, and finding time for other entertaining (and sometimes painful) mishaps.
To be concluded …
My birthday is on Tuesday. I’ll be 35 years old. What do I want for my birthday? I’m glad you asked. Help me raise at least $100 for the KLM Foundation, a South African organization that provides scholarship and leadership development opportunities to high-school students from rural, impoverished areas. Just go to www.klm-foundation.org, click the “Donate Now” button in the top right corner, and put my name on the line “in support of a participant for the Longtom Marathon.”
Oh, did I forget to mention I’m running a half marathon at the end of March? (Let’s be honest – I’ll be walking most of it after about 12 minutes of a half-hearted jog.)
You can also use this link to find out more about all that they do and the fine students KLM has already helped. If just ten of you fine folks donate $10, I’m covered. You’re all the best!
We’ll resume the story of my holiday travels shortly …