Africa, It's Complicated

When I think of Africa, I think of red sunsets over endless lion-colored land.  I think of people scarred but not bitter and land dry but full of life.  I think of dark skin in bright clothing. 

If Africa was a song, it would be a chaos of a violent and soulful harmony.  It would be heartbreakingly sad, yet hopeful.  It would be old, but not finished.

Africa taught me the world is full and thick and deep.  It taught me my age. It taught me my size.  It taught me to not feel sorry for people who live differently than me.  Africa taught me to look.  It taught me to listen.  It taught me things are usually better in daylight.  Africa taught me how to not be afraid.

New Hope for a New Generation

It’s difficult to identify New Hope’s greatest accomplishment.  Their orphanage provides shelter, nourishment, discipline, and counseling to over 100 HIV positive children.  Their school educates over 170 children and their clinic provides affordable healthcare to nearly 500 patients from the surrounding area.  Each of these is monumental.  But none compare to the extraordinary revolution New Hope has given the Meru Community.  

Clinic patients wait to be seen.

Caroline, a clinic technician.

In defiance of norms, superstitions and ignorant health concerns, New Hope treats both HIV positive and negative patients in their clinic and teaches both HIV positive and negative children in their classrooms.  The result is massive progress towards abolishing the devastating social stigma that surrounds HIV.  

It’s impossible to overstate how destructive the HIV stigma is in Africa.  It causes physical and psychological suffering to HIV positive people and denies them their basic human rights (an example being the HIV positive children who are pitilessly abandoned and now live at New Hope).  These repercussions cause many people to deny their condition and take no medication or precaution.  The HIV medication, along with helping with symptoms and progression, prevents the disease from passing to a child during pregnancy.  The parents remain in denial and the result is the generation of innocent HIV positive children at New Hope who dutifully take their medication morning and night. 

Each child has a cubby for their medication.  The dosage depends on their stage of HIV.

A house mother calls roll to give out morning medicine.

It begins and ends with these children.  If you watch them play, it would be easy to overlook that most of them have endured nothing short of horror in their short lives.  One of our jobs while at New Hope was to have the children write their story.   In simple seven-year-old language, they describe starvation, beatings, death, child labor, and abandonment.  And then, they describe coming to New Hope.

They didn’t expect to be received.  They didn’t expect to have friends.  Many had never had a home.  They were scared, lonely, and HIV positive.  They’d never known a secure future.  And then, New Hope swooped in.

A chalkboard from Class 5 at New Hope School.

The kids are constantly holding hands.

And the older ones take care of the younger ones.  And all of them take care of the babies.

And the older ones take care of the younger ones.  And all of them take care of the babies.

Now, the children play.  They study hard and sit quietly through three-hour church services on Sunday.  They eat five meals a day and take medicine every morning and every night.  They laugh when they catch balls and cry when they fall.  They talk openly about being HIV positive and they have teachers and counselors who will listen. 

Africa is complicated and the challenges are overwhelming.  We were discouraged and, without seeing it with our own eyes, we wouldn’t have believed that an organization like New Hope could exist.  But it does.  And they’re nourishing a new generation of Africans who will carry their banner and change their world.  And we should all cheer them on. 

Click Here to learn more about New Hope and their parent organization March to the Top.  For information on how to sponsor one of these incredible children, please email

The Great Migration: Safari on Steroids

The border of Kenya and Tanzania holds a plethora of safari options.  The most interesting to us?  The Ngorongoro Crater for the scenery, and the Maasai Mara for the infamous Great Migration.

The Ngorongoro crater is deservedly a UNESCO heritage site and a natural wonder.  If the crater itself wasn’t enough of a draw, inside the crater is home to tons of game animals including the Big Five.  We saw lions, elephants, giraffes and even the rare and endangered rhinos!


The biggest show for us, however, was the supreme safari of the world: The Great Migration.  The Migration is one of the most impressive natural phenomenons in the world—about 1.7 million wildebeest, 260,000 zebra, and 470,000 gazelle follow water up to the concentrated land in Maasai Mara, Kenya.  The precarious journey is a highlight for both the predators and spectators alike! 

Wildebeests migrate in a straight line and you can see it stretch across the entire horizon!

When you pick your destination for the Migration, it all depends on timing and where the herds will be.  That made the Maasai Mara the place for us.  We found the fabulous game lodge Aruba Mara to make the experience complete.

Wow.  With all of the wildebeests and other prey, the predators come out in droves. We saw a cheetah and her babies eating a kill—twice!  We saw multiple lion prides, a family of leopards, giraffes, elephants, massive crocodiles, and tons of others!

It was the perfect finale to our safari experience and certainly the highlight.  A huge thanks to Gerdi and her Aruba Mara team for making our Great Migration experience everything we hoped.

With all of the good given to us, it’s time to give back.  Next up: Volunteering with New Hope in Kenya.  In the meantime, Click Here to read What We Learned in the Maasai Mara.

Lessons from the Maasai Mara and Ngorogoro Crater

More Lessons from the Wild

1.  Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania was formed when a volcano collapsed on itself.  It is 2,000 feet deep and covers 100 square miles.

2.  Horns grow directly from the skull.  Not sure what we thought they did (maybe a joint?), but there ya have it.

3.  During the great migration, 1.7 million wildebeests migrate from Tanzania to Kenya.  In our inexpert opinion, wildebeest are possibly the ugliest creatures on the planet and our guide told us they’re also fairly dumb.  But they certainly reproduce in large quantities!

4.  Giraffes have their babies standing up.  Ouch.

5.  Hyenas have the strongest teeth and jaws of the African predators.

6.  When Lions mate, they do so up to 100 times per day for up to 7 days around the clock.  They usually don’t even stop to eat.  We learned about this process first hand.  Email us for a pic—we felt weird posting it!

7.  The Maasai are the best know tribe in East Africa (thanks, in part, to the book Out of Africa).  The Maasai Mara Game Reserve is even named after them!  Today, their indigenous lifestyle remains fairly consistent with their ancestors and they act as guides to kooks like us. 

8.  The Massai are generally Christians as well as polygamists. 

9.  Out of Africa explains the Massai’s obsession with cattle and this is still true today.  In fact, a girl is considered a blessing because a male must pay in many cattle to marry her.  In their dowry system, the male pays to marry a female instead of her father paying for the husband to take her.

10.  Elephants mourn.  For years after they lose a loved one, they’ll often return to the place of the death on the exact day of the loss.  Other scientists record them crying and showing signs of depression over loss.

That's What We Learned in the Maasai Mara, Click Here to read details on What We Did.

Salaam Means Peace

For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by Muslims. 

Zanzibar, located off the coast of Tanzania, is 99% Muslim.  After my time there, I feel profound awe and respect for a religion where women drape themselves in gorgeous fabric to hide everything but their faces.  Where throughout the day, and wherever they are, grown men hear the call, turn to face the birthplace of their Prophet, drop to their knees, and pray.  I sometimes have a hard time bowing my head before meals.

We were treated with such kindness and respect.  I dressed modestly, but blushed over my exposed collarbone.  Not for the first time on this trip, I suddenly understood an entirely new perspective.  These women cover everything but their eyes.  Whereas I cover my eyes and show almost everything else. 

Despite my decidedly Western appearance, the women smiled and made me feel welcome and safe.  In our exchanged smiles, I imagined a communication of mutual respect and an apology for our peoples' cruelties against the other's.  I fantasized of the progress if a billion such smiles happened between a billion different people from each side of the hemisphere. 

We have entered Muslim territory and this is just the start.  I know we will likely have some bad experiences.  But I’ll always remember and be humbly grateful for this beginning.  

Zanzibar, We Love You

To get to Zanzibar, we took a three-day train (which we aren't ready to talk about) from central Zambia to the coast of Tanzania and then ferried to the fabulous islands.  Zanzibar is an archipelago off the coast that has been a long time trading port where Africa, Arabia, India, and the Far East meet.  These influences continue today to make a fascinating place for architecture, food, and people.   

Zanzibar is 99% Muslim and the call to prayer rings out for everyone to hear.  Stone Town, the main city, is a maze of small cobblestoned streets where it’s better to spend the day getting lost rather than to worry about directions.

The Stone Town spice market is a delight to the senses and, not surprisingly, the food is as well!  Take a break from the sun on the reclining cushions at Monsoon where they serve local cuisine with charm.  To top off the day, every night there is a food stall market by the harbor.  Blakely particularly recommends the Zanzibar Pizza!

Laid back!

His face is my favorite.  He's like "Who is this crazy lady?"

We stayed at the recommended Hiliki House in Stone Town and the manager, Aboud, was a wonderful host.  Plus, the breakfast is a reason to wake up in the morning.

After Stone Town, we headed to the beach for some much-needed R&R.  There are a variety of beach village options depending on your mood.  We selected Jambiani which is fairly quiet with beautiful beaches.  The water is one-thousand shades of blue so we dove twice to fully appreciate the shades!

To get to Jambiani, we took a traditional dalla dalla!

Teeeensy bit cramped!

The tide in Zanzibar is a marvel!  Everyday on the Eastern beaches, low tide and high tide expand and retract by about a mile.  This is because Zanzibar is a coral island and very flat so small changes in the sea level create huge movements in the waterline.  It makes for perfect strolling and exploring!  The local women harvest seaweed and fisherman’s boats travel around the many lagoons.  

Now it's floating...

Now it's not!

Zanzibar was exactly what we needed to rest up for more safaris!

That's what we did.  Click Here to read What We Learned.  And see all of the pictures from the train ride and Zanzibar here!

Spicy Learning in Zanzibar

1. We already knew some Swahili, a language spoken in Eastern Africa!  “Hakuna Matata” truly means “No Worries” in Swahili.  The Lion King uses other Swahili words: Simba means lion, Rafiki means friend, and Pumba means foolish one.

2. “Thank you very much” in Swahili is “asante sana.”  Sound familiar?  It’s the beginning lyrics to Rafiki’s song “Asante sana, squash banana.”  Yes, this is how we remember it.

3. Lion King’s plotline has many possible sources (some say Hamlet), but simply analyzed it is based on facts of nature.  Male lions fight for dominance and will kick younger males out.  The banished younger males fend for themselves and then come back to the pride when they’re old enough to fight for dominance.

Ok, enough about the Lion King.  But it’s hard not to think about it in Eastern Africa!

4. When your husband says the three-day train ride through Africa is going to be a little rough, he means the 3-day train ride will be a nightmare.  Get a jug of Purell and beef up your prescriptions.  You’re in for a ride.

5. Never underestimate the smile-and-wave.

6. Zanzibar is an archipelago off the coast of Tanzania and, while technically part of the country, it operates and considers itself separate (you have to show your passport and vaccinations card to be allowed in). 

7. Zanzibar is 99% Muslim and was one of the ancient trade islands that connected Africa with Arabia, India, and the Far East.  These islands are often called the Spice Islands and rightly so.

A stall at Stone Town's spice market

A stall at Stone Town's spice market

8. Dar es Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania, is half Christian, half Muslim and both sides live very peacefully together.  Dar es Salaam is Arabic and literally translates to “the home of peace.”

9. When stung by a jellyfish, rub sand on it (don’t ask how Blakely learned this).

10. When cutting your own hair, always cut less than you think you should (don’t ask how Blakely learned this either).

That's What We Did in Zanzibar.  Click Here to read What We Did!

Our Victoria Falls Adventure

Victoria Falls is the largest waterfall in the world and stretches 5,604 ft across Zambia and Zimbabwe.  While the Zimbabwe side offers much better views, Zambia has more adrenaline activities.  The only answer was to do both! 

The Zimbabwe side of the Falls offers a few activities like zip lining and bungee jumping.  We opted for the Gorge Swing.  It was just what we hoped—the gorge was gorgeous and the drop was terrifying!  We decided to go together on the tandem swing so we could squeeze each other on the way down.  The swing starts with about six seconds of free-fall (which feels like six years).    Then as you swing, you get to take in the beautiful surroundings for an otherworldly experience.  It was breathtaking in every way!  Words won’t justify it so we recommend you check out the pics and watch our video!

Real skeptical...

But we did it!

The Zambia side held two attractions for us- The Micro-Lite and Devil’s Pool.

The Micro-Lite is a motorized paraglider that flies over the Falls.  It is gorgeous and so fun!   The only downside is cameras aren’t allowed, but each paraglider is fixed with a GoPro so your ride can be remembered.

Devil’s Pool- Only available during the dry season when the swell of the falls is low, Devil’s Pool is a natural infinity pool at the top of the falls.  You first ride a boat to Livingstone Island (“Island” being a broad term for the small patch of land closest to the pool) and then swim (YES, SWIM) across part of the falls to get to Devil’s Pool.  The excursion comes with breakfast, lunch, or sundowners.  We opted for sundowners, as a cocktail would be necessary after the swim!

"Just jump!" our guide said.

The view over the edge!

Oh yea, we're getting along great!

So ends our Victoria Falls Adventure.  Click Here for the full photo gallery.  Next up: Tanzania!

An Orphan Walks a Lonely Road

There are a few things you should know:

-There are an estimated 3.7 million orphans in South Africa today and close to half of them have lost their parents due to HIV/AIDS related illness.  

-Many orphans live in child-run homes (think of the show “Shameless” but not funny).  The communities help raise them.

-Children’s Centers are safe places kids can come during the day to play and learn.  The centers are mostly run by the grandmothers of the communities, but on their own, so the centers lack basic funding and the sophistication to source funding.  Enter Lonely Road.

The Lonely Road Foundation is not a charity.  One of Lonely Road’s excellent team members, Karabo, told us her view: Charities give help and then leave.  They create dependence.  We empower.

The difference is paramount not only in the results, but in the effort required.  It’s gratifying and fairly easy to donate clothes to a community in need.  But what happens when charities lose interest and the people still need clothes?  <Insert inevitable "Teach a man to fish" parable> 

Lonely Road works with the Children’s Centers in rural areas outside Johannesburg.  The centers provide one meal per day to the kids as well as a safe place to play and learn.  The centers also offer a gateway to the communities and, through the centers, Lonely Road is able to identify needs and address them.

We visited two of the centers in our short time working with Lonely Road.  The children are sweet and mischievous and silly.  They clung to Ryan the entire time (males are hard to come by).  They were rowdy until mealtime when they sat quietly to finish their food.  They listened to the grandmother teacher unlike any child I’ve ever seen and they danced like maniacs during dance time.

This is  my favorite pic.  Those kids are like "WHO is this guy and WHAT is he doing on my rug?"

This game went on for a while...

Meal Time = Quiet Time

Then they fell in love.

Until meal time called!

These kids play hard!

The donated toys stay safe in the cupboards so they don’t get messed up.   The kids play games and sing songs without them.  These kids don’t need toys. These kids need food.  The government funding has just been revoked without explanation (South Africa’s government has made great strides in our lifetime, but is still an incredibly frustrating and complex mess) so the one meal that the Centers offer (and often the only meal the kids get) is currently in limbo.  These kids are easy to help because they need so little and it’s not their fault. 

We spent time with the people behind Lonely Road and were moved by their kindness.  These people are the real deal.  They work tirelessly with the Children’s Centers and the communities to help in responsible and effective ways.  The good kind of giving is complicated and I’m grateful there are smart and effective people in the world like those at Lonely Road to do it.  I trust them. 

Go to their site to learn more and give what you can.  They’ll do the rest.

See the Full Lonely Road Photo Gallery Here.

Johannesburg- A City for Locals

Johannesburg is not great for tourists because there aren’t many notable attractions or worthy museums.  Plus, it has a terrible reputation for crime.  However, Jo ’Burg is home to very welcoming and warm people who’ll gladly open their lives (and even homes!) to you.  If you go to Johannesburg, we recommend you find some locals and live like them for a week (that’s what we did and it was fantastic).  Also, there are three notable attractions that would be a shame to miss.

The Apertheid Museum- An absolute must-see.  The museum tickets randomly divide patrons into non-white and white and then each "race" uses a different entrance.  For the first stage of the museum, non-whites and whites are split by a chain fence and must proceed alone.  Ryan and I were given different races and therefore separated which drove home the reality that many families were abruptly estranged when the government classified everyone by race.   The museum proceeds to use video, photography, antiques, and letters from Nelson Mandela to educate its patrons on South Africa’s long history of racial unrest.  And beneath the heartbreaking tales, the museum somehow teaches a lesson of overcoming evil and forgiveness.  The layout is a bit jumbled, but the content is superb.

Neighborhood Goods Market- Every Saturday, food stalls of all cuisines imaginable and fun local musicians crowd into a multifloor warehouse to make a market of delight.  Be warned: the market is full of locals and you’ll feel decidedly uncool.  It’s as authentic as it gets for real Jo ‘Burg life.

Now that's some Paella!

Soweto- Townships are urban areas that, from the late 19th century until the end of Apartheid, were reserved for non-whites (Black Africans and all “Coloreds”).  They’re usually located just outside cities where they could ensure a cheap workforce for the whites.  Now, many of the townships offer tours and show firsthand what life was like. 

Soweto is the largest and most famous of all of the townships and is located just outside Johannesburg.  Most of the resistance to Apertheid started here and today many cultural trends begin here.  As our tour guide put it,  “When Soweto sneezes, the whole country catches a cold!”  Plus, the name Soweto stands for SOuth WEstern TOwnship and, as New Yorkers, we love geographically informative names.

We took a bike tour through Soweto Bicycle Tours and thoroughly recommend it.  The city that was once was a demonstration of racial division and oppression now has prospered and and is proud of it’s place in history.

Trying the homemade beer!

It was Interesting!

The Wild Coast and Drakensberg

Below is the breakdown of our wonderful time in the Wild Coast.  Also, Click Here to view our Wild Coast and Drakensberg Photo Gallery!

We woke up before sunrise for the long drive from Jeffreys Bay to Coffee Bay.  As we got closer, it became apparent that we were arriving at the “Wild” coast.  The roads got dodgier and the towns shrunk to rural villages.

We arrived at Coffee Bay and decided to stay at the Coffee Shack.  Very laid back vibe with fun travelers and a close walk to the beach.  We surfed every day, hiked, enjoyed the beach and ate some of the amazing food cooked by the local chefs.

We crossed a stone path across this stream to get to breakfast and dinner every day!

Nelson Mandela curtains are an obvious must for any modern hut!

In Coffee Bay, the effect tourism has on a village is much more apparent.  The Coffee Shack makes a very conscious effort to curb the bad effects of tourism and enhance the good.  There are instructions everywhere on how to be a responsible visitor and they’ve set up a sponsorship program for secondary school scholarships.  I don’t want to spoil anything but you may soon be reading a post about how to be a more responsible traveler.  It’s just too important.

After Coffee Bay we headed to the mountains.  The Drakensberg is a region of breathtaking mountains carved many moons ago.  First stop was the Southern Berg where we stayed at Sani Lodge.  The owner, Russell, is a fascinating guy and he and his wife promote projects with the Bushmen (the indigenous population that descends from the first men of Africa) to try and encourage their economy.  It’s worth the visit just to listen to his knowledge of the area and it’s history.

In the Southern Berg we had another delight.  On a trip like ours, stuff doesn’t always work out.  But sometimes, you walk into the most charming farm cafe, get greeted like you’re family and informed that they’re just about to take today’s special, homemade lasagna, out of the oven.  Blakely almost wept.  The farm also has an art gallery, a petting zoo (for Ryan) and homemade ice cream!

After that heaven, we headed to Central Berg for the World Heritage site and the Rock Art.  We weren’t disappointed.  If the gigantic mountains weren’t enough, seeing art that is carbon dated back 5,000 years put our existence into a nicely miniscule perspective.

"I'm not could be a person.  Or a lion.  Or an antelope actually."

In Central Berg we stayed at Inkosana Lodge which has gorgeous grounds and views of the surrounding mountains.  It’s also conveniently close to Valley Bakery which has delicious sandwiches and homemade sweets.  Another favorite!

So ends our South African Road Trip.  We’ve survived the pot holes, enjoyed breathtaking nature of all types and learned so much along the way.  We’ll forever be grateful to the people of South Africa for welcoming us into their beautifully diverse home.

Next up: Johannesburg and volunteering with the Lonely Road Foundation!

That's What We Did on the Wild Coast and Drakensberg and Click Here to read What We Learned.  Or Click Here to view our Wild Coast and Drakensberg Photo Gallery!

Lessons from the Wild

Here are 10 things we learned from the Wild Coast:

1. When you stay on a farm, roosters actually do crow at daybreak.  That isn’t a myth they tell city folk to keep us away.

2. Driving here is very pro-passing.  Slower cars move into the emergency lane so the faster drivers can pass them easily.  When you pass, it’s polite to flash your hazards for a moment to say thank you.

3. Animals in the road are a VERY common occurrence.  From cattle to monkeys.

4. Many villages in Africa still operate as a tribe system that are run under the authority of a Chief.  The title is passed from father to child but not necessarily the oldest child and not necessarily the male.  The title is passed to the “wisest” child (which would put Ryan and Blakely solidly out of the running in their family).  The village we were in (Mqanduli) had a female chief which isn't an extraordinary situation.

5. The government recognizes the local authority of all Chiefs and tries to always yield to their judgment.

6. Foam surfboards are easy.  Hard boards are…well…hard.

7. Many accommodations in small villages make efforts to constructively give back to the communities of which they are a part.  They’re aware of the benefits and hazards of tourism and try to control both.  For example, the Coffee Shack had signs warning us NOT to give candy to children (NO DENTISTS!) and they've set up a scholarship fund so a few of the rural children who show promise can go to secondary school.

8. We talked to a teacher from London who's here teaching at a scholarship school.  We asked if there are any differences in the children in Mqanduli and those in London.  She didn’t hesitate-- the children in Mqanduli are so much more eager (if not desperate) to learn.

9. Learning a few simple words in the local language goes a VERY long way. 

10.  Xhosa (the language spoken in much of the Eastern Cape) is one of the “clicking” languages in Africa.  We can’t describe it, please come visit us for a demonstration of our Xosa skills.  Until then, here’s a fun video of Xhosa tongue twisters.

That's What We Learned on the Wild Coast and Drakensberg and Click Here to read details on What We Did.