Friday, July 18, 2008

Mom and Dad Bleckley Come to Africa

Jennie and I were recently blessed with a visit from my parents, just before the end of the semester. Mom and dad spent a couple days in Johannesburg before flying to Polokwane to spend a few weeks with us.

We met them at the airport and after navigating the hustle and bustle of Polokwane, we drove to the village. Mom and dad were kind enough to plunge into South African village culture without the prior training we received from Peace Corps so they could get an idea of what our everyday life is like. They stayed with a friend of ours who is opening a bed and breakfast in her retirement. Ms. Maloka owns a shop in town and is on a board of directors for a number of organizations, including Mohlarekoma Home Based Care, one of the organizations where Jennie works, and the Phokwane Improvement League Rural Education Trust, where we're helping to start a library and college guidance center.

Ms. Maloka has traveled outside South Africa, but like us, her culture is an insurmountable influence. My parents were given star treatment both because of how Americans are precieved, and because Ms. Maloka is such a hospitable host. They had plenty of blankets and shared tea and rusks (a delicious type of tea biscuit) with Ms. Maloka, who asked them to call her Edith.

During their time here, my parents helped prepare lunch at Mohlarekoma's drop in center for orphans and vulnerable children, visited my schools, ate a traditional lunch at Ms. Maloka's shop, and met many of the friends we've made here. My dad took a khumbi ride to the grocery store with me and did a training for area directors at youth camp.

Our host family, Mr. and Ms. Maserumule, were out of town for most of the week we were there, and we were afraid our real parents wouldn't be able to meet our African host parents. Ntate (our grandfather) had an eye operation in Pretoria, and couldn't return because the medicated eye drops he was taking had to be refrigerated; they wouldn't survive the ride back to our village. But Saturday, my dad was outside packing the car when our ntate walked through our gate.

Granddad told them the stories we expected him to: how we have the same Sepedi names of his two grandchildren, Bontle and Monare; how he had his foot operated and that the doctors had left the pin in his foot and he had to have another surgery to get it removed; and about the eye surgery he just had and the eye drops that had to be refrigerated. He addressed my dad as old man, a term of great respect here. I've thought that the two of them are very much alike, and I'm grateful they were able to meet.

Our vacation time was wonderful. We drove to Sabie on that first day, a tourist town near Nelspruit in the Panorama, a beautiful area of rolling hills and winding roads. This was where we ran the Longtom Marathon in March, but the views were new to my parents. In Sabie we ate at a diner with a train car front and miniature golf out back. They had some good burgers and potjies - dishes cooked in a three-legged, cast iron pot. I think my alfredo pasta was probably only served in a potjie, but it still tasted good.

Proceeding from Sabie the next morning, we arrived in Kruger National Park for a wilderness hiking program. Kruger has a number of camps far from public roads traveled by tourists where eight visitors can stay at a time. During the day you are taken on hikes by two park rangers with very large guns. We had seen a number of animals on our Christmas trip to Kruger, but it's a very different experience to see them from inside a car to seeing them while you're crouched behind a rock. And we were able to see rhino, which we hadn't viewed on our previous trip.

From Kruger we returned to the Panorama a little further north in the Blyde River Canyon. Graskop is a big tourist attraction because of it's shops and restaurants. Pancakes here, we learned, are made with more eggs, and often folded over with a filling inside - a sort of cross between pancakes and omelets. I had a spinach and cheese filled pancake, for example. A very unique experience. We did a bit of shopping and some more sight-seeing in the Panorama before driving north to the border with Botswana.

On the South African side we stayed one night in a tent camp, which is not what we had in mind when we thought about a tent. These tents had full bathrooms and a kitchen. They were like cabins, but with canvas walls and a bit colder. After spending the night at Mapungubwe National Park, we went on a tour of their archaeological site, where a village lay on major gold trade routes.

Crossing the border into Botswana, we spent three nights at a second game reserve where we saw big cats. We had seen cheetah in Kruger in December, but at a distance. We saw cheetah, lion and leopard from the truck on many occasions. We even saw a leopard snatch a guinea fowl out of a tree for dinner. The animals there are much more used to vehicles and people, but it was still neat to be able to see them. The food there was awesome! Breakfast "snack" which included yogurt, granola, fruit, juice, toast, and cereal. Tea was served on the morning game drive with rusks (South African biscotti). Brunch was served after the game drive around 11 and there were eggs and meat and casseroles and fresh bread and crackers with . . . wait for it . . . bleu cheese! And salami! It was like being back in America, only there's a herd of semi-wild elephants drinking at the waterhole below the dining area. Then at 3 was something they called high tea, which I was informed meant tea with more food. Crackers and fresh bread came out again. And more bleu cheese. Drinks and popcorn served on the evening game drive and then dinner at 8, served buffet style, something I always hardily support, especially when it's good. For us, food is something we are always able to enjoy more on vacation, so it was a real treat. They did have assigned seating at dinner, which was a little weird, but we didn't push back all that hard.

We drove back to the village the following day. Along the way, my dad secretly bought us a box of wine - something it isn't culturally acceptable to purchase in our village. My parents spent one final night with us before loading up their luggage and saying goodbye. We cried for a good half-hour, but then slowly prepared for reintegration and the following week.

We were so happy to be able to spend time with my parents and so honored that they decided to spend their 25th wedding anniversary trip with us.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Waxing the Floor