This week we spent the second half of our holiday with the Grandparents in Harare, Zimbabwe, and found a really special educational paradise on our drive home into South Africa. It always amazes me what we learn on these outings and holidays. Africa is vast and filled with copious learning opportunities, when we first moved back here I was concerned we would be missing out on all the museums and historical opportunities Europe has to offer. I’m pleased to write that Africa gives us something equally important, yet different. Travelling here makes me want more, inspiring me to get on a bus and travel for a few years, like unschool bus in the US … one can only but dream!
We arrived in Harare in the dark and were greeted with much excitement by Buffy and Poppet, the in-laws Jack Russell’s. After unloading the cars we settled down to eat macaroni cheese prepared by Jennifer, the super domestic worker, what a treat after a long journey. It was delicious.
We were too late to see the Spotted Eagle owl’s, which lived in a palm tree in the garden, flying everyday from their nest in one tree to another tree in the garden as dusk falls. Luckily we managed to see them swoop across the garden at 6:30 on the subsequent nights – you could set your watch by it. you could set you watch by observing the two dogs waiting in anticipation for their daily owl watching ritual. The owl’s hatched a baby last year, unfortunately for us it had already flown the nest. Perhaps we will get lucky next visit.
Jana, grandma, showed us her banana tree, explaining all about bananas. We could see a few bunches of bananas hanging down with a huge closed flower at its tip. Apparently each row of bananas is referred to as the hand, which is made up of the fingers, individual bananas, which on this tree are either 10 or 12 fingers. These are delicious bananas half the size of the ones found in the shops. A banana bunch grows more prolifically on the side of the tree facing east, where the sun rises. The banana farmer tends to start growing his trees on the West side of the field, which he has allocated to banana trees, and moves across the field in an easterly direction planting banana trees as time goes on.
We had a long discussion on blindness with Jana, JJ, AA and I. Jana has a friend who used to teach Braille, which is apparently not needed anymore with the progression in personal computers making it superfluous. This reminded us of the trip we attended, last year, where we experienced being blind for an hour at the science museum in Johannesburg. Both JJ and AA reminisced about our blind guide, who met us in the dark and took us around the blackened room, leading us to a bar where we purchased cool drinks and drank them in total darkness. It was only when we left this experiential exhibit that we got to ‘see’ our guide who had spent the last hour with us. Up until this moment he had been totally in control, with us being the vulnerable ones. Once light returned to our world we experienced a subtle shift in dynamics between ourselves and our guide. We lost our state of vulnerability and our guide, who had been a tower of confidence in the darkened world, becoming slightly more vulnerable in our advantaged world of light.
We saw and heard the Cuckoo birds. Jana explained how they lay their eggs in other bird’s nest for their birds to be raised by the other birds – reminiscent of the Victorian wet nurses. We witnessed the many visits of the HammerKop bird which has been known to flush out frogs from the pond, used to be a swimming pool, and hammer them on the ground before eating them.
When night fell JJ had us all outside testing our ability to identify South by using the Southern Cross. I think I got it correct so I did learn something this holiday!
Jana paints lovely pictures and we were very lucky to be given a choice of what she had painted. We chose a stunning painting of two zebra’s on a white background and two swan’s on a blue background. We are planning to get them framed and put up on the wall.
We treated ourselves to a takeaway pizza one night and JJ got some bubbles with the kid’s meal. It got me searching online for the best DIY bubble liquid recipes. I also came across instructions on how to make huge bubble wands … I do so want to do this with AA and JJ. Watch this space.
We visited the Mukuisi Woodland park, in Harare, and saw, 2 Nile Crocodile, loads of birds, several tortoise, lizards, 2 adult giraffe and 1 baby, herd of Eland, herd of Impala, Egrit (following the Impala around), several Guinea Fowl and Zebras. The Zebras kept us entertained for a while, watching them trying to synchronise their swinging tails. It was as if they were trying to flick tails in time together, yet they kept failing.
Then the Giraffe started to walk towards the lookout, where we were seated. We waited with bated breath hoping they would drink at the waterhole in front of us, by spreading their front legs in that awkward position they get themselves into so their mouth can reach the water. It took forever as they walked a few steps towards us and then stopped waiting to see if there was any danger then proceeded a few more steps and waited some more. Finally the larger male giraffe arrived at the waterhole and entertained us by drinking with his front legs spread wide apart. We also learnt that giraffes walk differently from the other animals, by moving both front and back limbs on the same side together then repeating it on the other side. Whereas all other four legged animals move opposite limbs, front and back, simultaneously. It is only when the Giraffe runs that it switches to the same way as the other animals.
Jana explained that the reason why the Egret follows the Impala around is for the insects and worms that are pulled up, as a by-product, when the Impala pull out its grass to eat. All animals have amazing camouflage and yet they all look totally different. At this park there are no predators, but if there was Bruce told me that the best way to find a lion in the bush is by looking for the flick of its tail. Watching the buck, the giraffe and zebra I would say that this is good advice to apply when trying to spot most animals in the bush.
We left 6:30am on Saturday for our long drive back home. We had booked into a place in Louis Trichardt 100km on the South African side of the border. We were aiming to get there late afternoon but only arrived as darkness fell. This was due to a combination of factors. The condition of the road to Beitbridge/Messina border was not as good as the Plumtree/Bulawayo stretch of road. Additionally we were plagued by trucks on the single lane roads, stopping regularly to pay the $1 dollar toll charge and being hampered regularly by police blocks. The police were in fine form on this journey, they caught us for speeding when there were no speeding signs around, fined us for not having a fire extinguisher in the car and stopped us every 20 km’s to ask for our paperwork and drivers license. It felt like we were seen as a moving cash machine and they were making up any excuse to separate us from our dollars.
JJ continued entertaining us by playing her music over blue tooth and singing songs. I put my foot down when she played the Who Let the Dogs Out for the umpteenth time. She then took out her newly purchased maracas and started singing songs and shaking them in rythym. She’s a natural entertainer so we found it useful to break the monotony of the journey. In total contrast we didnt hear a sound from AA. I found myself turning around occasionally to check that he was still in the car.
The journey to Masvingo was monotonous and flat. Masvingo is a typical neglected African town and I couldn’t wait to pass through it. The last time we visited here was two years ago when we were booked in at Lake Kyle and went to see the Zimbabwean Ruins, namesake for the country. This time we continued past the road that lead to these sites, staying on target for the border. As we crossed over the Rhundi River the scenery improved dramatically. It was once again beautiful with striking granite rocky outcrops, rich vegetation and plenty of masasa trees.
It is obvious that the people in the South of Zimbabwe have suffered most in the country during this last decade. It was often that we saw children, dressed in threadbare clothes, carrying heavy buckets of water and herding the small herds of cattle or goats reminiscent of ancient times. When we stopped for a brief lunch we were approached by two young teenage girls looking for some food. We made up some cheese rolls and added in some grapes and oranges. JJ and I took it over to them and they were extremely grateful. I wish we could have done more. JJ commented that she felt very rich in comparison. We discussed that wealth was relative there was always going to be someone better off and less well off than us.
Finally we found the old strip road running parallel to us. Then we started to see the distinctive Baobab trees with their huge trunks along the side of the road. At relative intervals there were curio markets set up on the side of the road selling some wooden carvings. Unfortunately we needed to keep going so I couldn’t stop and browse.
Our border crossing was uneventful and took under an hour. Immediately the road conditions changed as we entered South Africa, and we left behind the numerous police checks. The roads were marked appropriately, double width and well lit. Telephone poles stood upright and fencing for the farms on the side of the road were intact and obviously well maintained. We stopped briefly in Messina to gather provisions for the night. I noticed there were huge chinese markets and discount stores. Bruce commented that it was probably to supply the Zimbabweans as the border was so close.
100 km’s later we approached the Soutpansberg mountain range. Gone were the granite rocky outcrops and in its place was a stunning red stone mountain range. The road wound around offering all types of accommodation along the route. Being somewhat adventurous or crazy, depending on how one looks at it, we had booked ourselves in a wooden cabin with no electricity for the night. Medike was 36 km from Louis Trichardt on the other side of the mountain. At first I thought we had made a mistake as we were taken past a rundown community on route to the place. However the dirt road soon took us into the mountain leaving all signs of humanity behind. I was grateful for our 4×4 as we bumped over dirt roads, crossed a railway line twice and negotiated a narrow river bridge. As the sun lowered behind the mountain we arrived at the house of H and M with their 3 friendly dogs.
We were directed to our cottage, after turning down a generous cup of tea, we wanted to settle before nightfall. There we were taught how to light the many paraffin lamps and to maintain a donkey, the source of heat for the hot water. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about the donkey is a contraption holding a small tank of water with a cold water pipe feeding in cold water and a hot water pipe taking the hot water into the cabin. Underneath a fire is kept alight warming up the water in the tank. It sounds like a good plan but I’m not convinced, we only managed to achieve luke warm water status whilst we were there. Because it had just rained we chose to not braai and settled for cooking our steak on the gas oven. The steaks were thick and the gas flame not very strong. So instead of grilled meat I managed to produce chewy boiled steak. At least the salad Bruce made was more successful. Finishing off the night we retired early with tea, chocolate and reading by paraffin light.
The next morning we had a more successful cooked breakfast. Then we packed the car and set off on a supposedly hours round trip walk to find a baobab tree. It ended up being a major three hour walk into the bush and up a mountain. Between JJ and Bruce we did eventually find the glorious tree with its trunk successfully imitating a boulder. On route I found a dassie skull and a weathered section of wood, which Bruce kindly lugged back for me. My plan is to use it as a display in our garden. We also came across the quaintest thatched rock cabin, incorporating a perfectly placed huge rock as the rear wall in the 7 sleeper cottage. We later found out, from the owners, that this rock was the inspiration for building the cottage where it was situated. The door was open and as we entered for a little look I was reminded of the Goldilocks story, half expecting the three bears to descend on us and chase us out of their house. The bedrooms were set up on mezzanine levels and the garden outside had perfectly maintained grass making it a perfect getaway cottage in amongst trees.
Reading the brochures on the table in our log cabin we learnt that there were over 20 cave paintings in the reserve, 3 baobab trees, as well as a multitude of butterflies, insects, leopards and buck. This was a true bush experience and somewhere I will shortly be returning, to explore over a longer period with the children. H and M were waiting for us when we went to hand in the keys and invited us a second time for some tea which this time we accepted. Whilst looking through photo albums and hearing the story of how the reserve was developed and almost destroyed by a flood a few years ago. M arrived with tea in which lemon grass had been infused. it transformed a very ordinary cuppa into something quite exotic.
Bruce drove continually for the 3000 Km round journey, amazing feat. We passed over the Tropic Capricorn on route. The rest of the trip home on Sunday afternoon was uneventful and passed quickly mainly due to the easy driving conditions. We arrived home at 8pm exhausted but all having had a magical holiday in Africa with our family.
The next day we planted the many varieties of plants that we were given by the in-laws, from their gorgeous garden … I really do hope I don’t kill them! When we went to purchase potting soil I managed to find my much planned for lemon tree. Making that two trees up and only one to go. Translated to mean that I now have an avocado sapling, a small lemon tree and all I’m waiting for is my pecan nut tree. In addition, Jana gave me two types of sweetpea seeds as well as some sweet pepper seeds for planting sometime in the future.
Settling back into normal life I took a long shot and contacted a home school Mom, whom I had met briefly on a home education trip. I had heard she was an animator. It turns out that I may have found someone to collaborate with to animate my children’s book. I hope it works out.
It was my birthday this week and I felt like the whole world was sending me best wishes. I lost count of the facebook happy birthday posts, the telephone calls, the emails and the text messages. I was spoilt rotten by the children and Bruce. Every need of mine that day was met. I had plenty cups of tea made for me, the dishwasher was loaded without complaint and the children provided me with constant attentive company. I met up with some home schooling friends at Moyo Zoo Lake the girls had their face painted whilst we sat in the autumn sun drinking coffee. The afternoon entailed another coffee shop celebration this time with my Aunt and Uncle at my favourite The Perfect Cup in Parkview. For supper we decided, at short notice, to go and get a pizza from Francos. A local restaurant which holds special memories for Bruce and I, being the place went to on our first date, nearly 20 years ago. It was a lovely cosmopolitan day with the only downside being the constant reminder that with this birthday I’m inching perilously close to the big five O!
I don’t enjoy advertising, I don’t agree with child exploitation and I worry about the damage that has been inflicted on some child actors. With this in mind I reluctantly taxied JJ to her first casting audition. At times like this I’m convinced she can’t possibly be my daughter. I just don’t get the attraction of acting! She loves acting where as I love reading. She sings and I need quiet. She likes being centre of attention and I enjoy anonymity. Walking into this room of wannabe child actors went against everything that I stand for. Yet there I was sitting down filling out JJ’s details, helping her read the script and waiting for her whilst she went in for her audition. In true home education style I decided to place a positive slant on this alien experience, deciding that at least she is learning firsthand how this particular industry works. In contrast JJ was in her element. She didn’t get the part but she handled her nervousness and managed to do what was required of her at this, her very first, audition.
Websites of interest this week
A funky graduate tells us … Why I hate school but love education
An interesting new school, but I still say a school is a school … Lego school promises the building blocks to successful learning
We arrived in Harare in the dark at about 8:00 a.m. I was so excited to meat Buffy and see Poppet again. We saw my grandparent’s owl’s that live in a palm tree in their garden. They are Spotted Eagle owl’s and they had a baby last year but it had already left but I wish I could’ve seen it i love being at my grandparents house. My gramps teases me all the time so I tease him back, we have lots of fun.
We saw my grandparent’s banana tree and saw the hand made up of the fingers which is either 10 or 12 fingers. These are the best bananas but very small. I fed the skin to the Staghorn plant because they love to eat them it’s amazing.
I helped my dad wash both of the cars – ours and Jana’s. Gramps sprayed me with the hose when I was climbing the tree that I always climb every time I’ve been to Zimbabwe. I love it, it has so many memories. Gramps said it was raining but it wasn’t! He he he.
Me my brother and my dad went around the block to Jana’s friends house (with bags of heavy mud and no one thought I could carry one but I did. I am really strong I think) in the back of my gramps bakkie, which is a small truck. It was fun but my mom was cross with my dad and my gramps because she said it was dangerous, but gramps made her feel better. I took pictures of the garden and lots of flowers with my mom’s camera it was so cool.
I helped my grandma in the kitchen getting supper ready I made my veggie chicken schnitzel. I also helped make drop scones, which we ate for breakfast. We made exactly 36 but I tasted one before the others.
We had a long discussion on being blind and we told Jana about a trip we did to experience being blind, at the science museum in Johannesburg. That place was nice but I can’t like make another paragraph about it because it happened last year and this blog is about this year. But all I can tell you is that it was great.
My grandma made my nails look pretty with her buffing set they looked pretty very pretty. I lay under a tree with my Dad talking and reading it was relaxing he he.
We visited the Mukuisi Woodland park and saw, Nile Crocodiles they looked very grumpy, loads of birds that were very noisy, a tortoise, lizards (I saw a dead one on the road so sad), and giraffes. I learnt that giraffe walk with the same legs on one side of their body. There was a herd of Eland that were drinking and walking lots, Impala, an Egrit, Guinea Fowl and Zebras. We saw the Zebra’s tails trying to go the right way – it was like the Zebra’s wanted to do a show he he.
We saw two girls that asked for food when we stopped for lunch and we gave them lots of food they were happy.
My brother and I listed all the countries we’ve visited. I’ve visited 13 and he has been to 12 countries. my mom says we cant count Wales seperate to England but we did.
We stayed in a log cabin in a forest. My brother and I slept up in the messanine. It was fun because there was no electricity and had to use parafin lambs, but I didn’t sleep that night because I was too cold. The next morning we went on a quick walk that was not quick. We went to see the baobab tree and we got cut and scratched it was very tiring. AA slipped and hurt his back and Dad also fell and cut himself. We found a pretty stone cottage that had a cool stone inside. I needed the toilet so I went when we were there.
I went to a casting agency for an advert for Albany bread what we had to do was sit somewhere else and act so hungry and then mom (our acting mom) called us for lunch then we had to run to the table acting so excited for food. Then we saw the brown bread and looked disgusted and push the plates away from us at the table. We had to go twice so I think I won’t be chosen but it’s ok, its only my first time anyway but I might get chosen I’ll see.
I got up in the morning thinking modern class was on but I thought it is probably not because mom hadn’t got up yet. I went to moms bed to lie with her, be read to and to play with the dogs. After about half an hour mom looked very shocked ‘oh no we have missed modern lesson’ I said ‘how late?’ It was 5 minutes so I ran to my bedroom got my stuff ready got changed and went to mom who was STILL IN THE SHOWER. After about 5 mins we got in the car and went to modern class. When we got there we told the modern teacher why we were so late but she was ok with it she said it happened sometimes he he we are so naughty.
I played sumdog for the first time in weeks he he.
I looked online and I searched up the lyrics for Run from Leona Lewis, but I’m still learning the words. It was my mom’s birthday on the 23rd of April we got her flower, mugs (lots of mugs) and bathroom stuff he he and in the middle of the day mom and I planted our new plants it was so much fun - like so fun.