What an eventful month it has been. I spent half the month in South Africa so I thought it would be suitable to post my journal entries that I wrote while I was away. I used these journal entries for the internship I did for this trip. I spent about 3 weeks in South Africa working at a summer youth camp and also traveling. With these journal entires you can see a little more of a glimpse on what I did and experienced. I also added a few pictures to give you some visuals. Enjoy!
December 31st, 2017
What a day it has been and it is not even over because we have been traveling for 36 hours straight. So, December 31st and January 1st are going to be like one full, long day. I woke up at 4:00 AM to get to the MSP airport at 5:00 AM. Leading up to this point, traveling to South Africa did not feel real. We took our connecting flight from MSP to D.C. where we had a layover for 6 hours. The time was filled with eating airport food, watching movies, stretching and mentally preparing for the next two flights we were going to take on. From D.C. we are traveling to Senegal, which is about 8 hours, to refuel. From Senegal we will be traveling to Johannesburg, South Africa which is another 8 hours long. From Johannesburg we will travel to our final destination, Cape Town, South Africa.
I have not been fortunate enough to have traveled out of the country this far in my life. I am really taking a leap, but I could not be more ready for it. During this long plane ride, I have had a lot of time to prep mentally and spiritually for this trip. The best thing I could have done to prep is to have no expectations and to feel incredibly open. This trip could not have come at a better time.
January 1st, 2018
Finally to Cape Town! The first thing I noticed when we got here is how bad of a drought they are in. The flight attendants made an announcement on the plane letting people know how bad the water shortage is. There were posters all over the airport reminding people to take a two minute or less shower and to really watch their water intake. This was news to me. I was not aware of this circumstance until we got there.
Several of our South African friends met us and greeted us at the airport. From there we took a bus to the Strand Tower Hotel very late at night. Because of the time differences and traveling on an airplane for about two days, December 31st and January 1st mixed together. We immediately went to bed when we got to the hotel.
January 2nd, 2018
Today could easily be placed as the best day of my life. We woke up around 7:00 AM and went down to the hotel breakfast. After breakfast, we had a meeting/ice breaker to get to know everyone on the trip. We then went on our journey to visit the 4 different townships that Africa Jam does work in. The first one, Ottery, were flats that were government owned. These flats create a lot of tension between different gangs in the community. Gangsterism and poverty are the 2 biggest things that people in the townships of Cape Town deal with. We then departed to Phumlani, the second township, which is where we met more people. We got out and walked around Phumlani and talked with people there. This township is considered an informal settlement. This means that the homes and structures were hand made by the people. We went to a church in Lotus River which is where Africa Jam began with after school programs. Several people involved with Africa Jam live here. We heard from people like Ingrid, Conway and Celine who told us their stories and their involvement with Africa Jam.
From here, we went to this food place called Gatsby’s. We ate chicken sandwiches with fries mixed in along with a side of samosas. It was so delicious and a very well known food place in Cape Town. After a quick food break, our final destination was Khayelitsha. This is a very powerful place. Not only does it stretch for miles but it has so many stories and some of the warmest hearts of people I have ever met. We went to the top of this lookout that overlooks the township. Throughout our journeys through the townships we had Loyiso with us leading the way. At the top of this lookout, Loyiso told us his story about how his father cut off his pinky and buried it in the ground next to the grave of his ancestors because that resembles how they will look after him. He also explained to us how homes are built and established in Khayelitsha and what that process is like. Driving through Khayelitsha had to have been one of the most memorable moments of my life. We visited the Africa Jam Centre. Of the 4 townships, this is the only one with a developed youth centre. We walked inside and the kids, a large range of ages, were singing in dancing. We watched as their audience, unsure what would happen next. They then embraced us and got us to join in song and dance.
“I love you. You love me. This is the way it should be. God loves you. I love you. This is the way it should be. We’re gonna dance together, dance together. This is the way it should be.”
Instantly, I felt happiness that I have never experienced and that filled my cup enough to last me the rest of my life. They performed dance and singing pieces for us. I have never seen such natural talent from young kids. Some of the kids took us on tours of their homes nearby. One thing that I found most fascinating was the amount of people that asked me what I thought South Africa looked like before I got there. They asked me if I thought there were going to be lions and elephants roaming around or if I thought it was going to be as developed as it is. That was probably the most asked question I received on the trip. After spending time with everyone in Khayelitsha, we said our goodbyes and went back to the hotel.
For dinner, we went to this traditional African style restaurant called Gold. As we walked in, there were 2 drummers on stage leading the rest of the guests in a drumming lesson. Because we walked in late we could not participate, but watching it fulfilled the experience. They served a 5 course meal of different traditional style foods with different glasses of wine. While we ate and conversed we were also watching traditional African style drumming and dancing on the stage in front. At one point, I was swept off my feet and brought on stage for a mini dance lesson and busted some moves in front of everyone at the restaurant. I truly was living my happiest life.
January 3rd, 2018
Today, we had some free time to visit Camps Bay. Unfortunately, it took 45 minutes to get there because the traffic was rough. Fortunately, it was the most beautiful ride. From there we went to Muizenberg beach and spent some time relaxing and eating a lot of fish and chips. The public bathroom was unlike any public restroom I have experienced. The toilet paper was outside of the stall, so you had to take a little bit with you inside. After the beach we were on our way to Simon’s Town which is where Africa Jam camp is. We pulled up to camp which is on a mountain that overlooks an ocean. My mouth dropped when I got off the bus and looked around. After we brought up our luggage we were able to meet more of the Africa Jam staff. After settling in, we went through the night prepping for campers coming in the morning.
January 4th, 2018
A long but beautiful day filled with new friendships and a lot of fun energy. We began this morning very early in prep for the kids coming to camp. They came around 10 AM and trickled in bus by bus from different communities. I have been going up to summer camp since I was in 3rd grade and I have never had so much fun on the first day of camp ever. We all were assigned roles for the week and my role was Fun Squad. This essentially means that I help come up with games and activities for the campers. Another thing to point out is that these campers are in high school. As campers arrived I led some games for everyone to do. I always believe that one needs to get out of their comfort zone in order to fully grow as an individual. It has been a while since I was last truly out of my comfort zone and felt good about it in the sense where it helps me grow as a person. I finally have been able to do something different and unlike anything I have done before with a group of brand new people. Being out of my comfort zone here made me a happier and better person. Fun Squad ran games in between lunch, dinner, the church service, and the special nightly event.
The church service was unlike any I have been to in my life. The speaker for the night was a professional motivational speaker and separately a pastor. He said a lot of wise and relatable things that I was able to take with me. He said things such as, God won’t let us move forward and progress because we still haven’t learned our lesson from our mistakes we made. He also said how there is no such thing as failure. It is only success or learning. This speaker had a great mix of religion, spirituality and motivation in his message. I felt that religious or not you could find a way to relate to the things he was saying. The rest of night consisted with the Fun Squad running a night time entertainment lip sync competition. I closed the night by performing a dance routine. It is really easy to feel loved and at home here. I ended the night by playing cards with some of the staff members and went to watch the stars. I already feel incredibly sentimental because I realized in just a few days I will have to say goodbye to people that I already consider family and close to my heart. It was really special watching the stars in the southern hemisphere and seeing 4 shooting stars on January 4th. There is nothing like what I experienced today.
January 5th, 2018
Today was quite the day. A lot of activity and a lot of new friendships. This morning, fun squad continued to run some games for the campers. After games was choices which included basketball, swimming, arts and crafts, music, soccer and dance. Last second they asked me to run the dance part of the activities. Luckily, I had something prepared and only a few campers showed up so it wasn’t a huge deal. But they really enjoyed it! After this I jumped in the pool and talked with Ellen, the founder of Africa Jam. She told me all about the creation of Africa Jam and her story about living in South Africa. Her stories were fascinating. She talked about what it was like marrying a black man from a township and what people thought about that, what it was like moving back to Minnesota, how Africa Jam continues today and her love and passion for summer camp and South Africa. My brother once told me that mentors are people that appear in your life when you need it the most. After talking to Ellen, I feel that way. She studied communications and peace studies in college, which now is essentially social justice. She also dances and is so brilliant as a white women in a space where it may seem irregular to be physically present in. I asked about how Africa Jam started, her college and traveling experiences, race and so many other things. She is such a wonderful women and I feel honored to know her.
The rest of the day went as normal for a regular Africa Jam day. I made some friends with some of the campers. Amy, Joseph, Caleb, Zoë, Lilith, Michael and others. All about 16 years young and so bright. Definitely could see them as the leaders of Africa Jam one day. This is going to be really hard to say goodbye to them in a few days. Tonight was the leaders entertainment. We all prepared something almost as a talent show for the campers. I danced, as I did last night, and it was really wonderful. I had so many South Africans come up to me and say they had never seen anyone dance like me before. What a compliment that was, especially because I have been thinking how all of them are more amazing dancers than I am. We ended the night by hanging out upstairs where all the leaders do. The people here truly are something special.
***One thing that is important to point out is how the drought played an input at camp. In order for the water for the camp to be turned on, the owners had to walk up a part of the mountain to turn it on and off. Because of this and because of how bad the water shortage is, we only had the water on for about 3-5 hours a day. This required us to fill up buckets and containers of water while it was on and to take about a minute or two long shower. Along with this, we could not wash our hands or flush the toilets until the following mornings so they bought us hand sanitizer to use before meals. Cape Town is predicted to be the first major city to run completely out of water.
January 6th, 2018
Today was the most exhausting day we have had so far. After breakfast and devos, fun squad ran more games. From here, there was a South African choreographer that came in to teach everyone choreo. This was so fun. I have never danced this much in a small amount of time in my life. Earlier, one of the leaders came up to me asking if one of the girls, Aleehah, could dance with me for the campers entertainment night. I said of course and her me and another camper, Amy, spent parts of the rest of the day coming up with a routine. These girls are phenomenal. Not only are they talented, but they are beautiful, smart, brave and man, can they dance. I also spent time dancing with Jayden, one of the leaders. He too is absolutely amazing.
Tonight was a special dinner where the leaders dress up nicely to serve the campers. It is tradition every year that they sing the song “Lean on Me” before we serve the meal. After this was the church service. The night ended with Campers entertainment. All the campers did absolutely phenomenal. I haven’t been so proud of kids and their talents. Amy and Aleehah did so well. The end of the night inched up and I had one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I went into the chapel with three of the South African band members and the 2 Germans that were volunteering at the camp. We had the most amazing conversations about politics in the US, South Africa and Germany. I learned so much from them tonight. It isn’t that often that 3 cultures can gather together in a safe space and discuss such topics.
January 7th, 2018
Today was incredible. And even that is an understatement. It was the last full day at camp. I can not believe how fast these few days have gone by. Ellen Ruiters gave the most amazing devotion I have ever heard. It was all about how Africa Jam started and how it all starts with the roots. She said she always wears a tree every day to remember her roots. She then passed out the tree of life charm for everyone to have. This gave a lot of inspiration to all of the kids. She got the staff of Africa Jam who started out as campers to come up and speak about what the campers can do to keep themselves going. A lot of tears and a lot of beautiful voices spoke. A friend of mine talked to me about having the fear of missing out and wanting to not regret anything about this trip. This trip is very different for everyone and it is easy to experience such love and wonderful energy and fear not being able to take it all in. I think for the first time, I have been able to truly live in the moment and take everything in. We, Fun Squad, went and led the last day of games for the campers. We taught them Name that Tune, a game we, Minnesotans, play up at our summer camp in Lutsen, Minnesota. After that, two Double Dutch guys came to teach the kids how to double dutch. We had a lot of free time throughout today. At lunch we got a whole beat going on the tables and got everyone to have a dance and move their bodies based off the beat. I am supposed to be here. I honestly have never felt more welcomed and more like myself. Everyone here is unapologetically outgoing, carefree and themselves. How do you take something like that home when that is not the roots of where it lives?
After the final church service was a candle lit service. There was a large circle of chairs and in the center were candles waiting to be lit in a dark room. One by one, anyone was invited to approach the candles, light one, and talk about what Africa Jam means to them. We are not given opportunities often where we can be vulnerable and reflect in a space where we share similar values with our surrounding people. It was beautiful how intimate the space felt in a room full of 150 people.
January 8th, 2018
So I don’t know how to explain how happy I am. Today was the day we had to say goodbye to everyone. This was not easy and there were a lot of tears. What is hard with some of these kids is that I actually won’t see them again and it is even more difficult to explain that to them. We wove goodbye on the road as each bus drove away while the kids sang, danced and wove back. We gathered all of our things and were on our way to the Boulders Beach where all the penguins are. After spending some time there we were on our way to Franschhoek. This is the nicest place I have ever stayed in my entire life. The hospitality was way higher than 5 stars and everyone is so genuinely nice. It is going to make Minnesota Nice look like incredibly passive aggressive when we come home. We got to the place we are staying at and they greeted us with glasses of champagne and appetizers. Complimentary. After we got situated we went down to the pool for a couple hours and ordered drinks and food. We then decided to go into town for dinner. We ate at this Italian restaurant and hung out around town for the rest of the night.
It was quite the transition coming from an area where the water shortage is fairly severe and not being able to wash our hands after going to the bathroom to swimming in a clean pool and having the Honeymoon Suite shared with only two people. Although this was an amazing part of the trip and a beautiful part of South Africa’s wine country to experience, it is safe to say that we all would not have minded staying at camp and not having luxuries if that meant being with the campers longer. It was something we all sat down and discussed/reflected on.
January 9th, 2018
I had the most luxuries and superb slumber of my life because it was longer than 4 hours. A group of us went to a wine tasting. I learned so much about South African wine and it seriously inspired me to own a vineyard in South Africa. I can dream. My favorite wine was Dieu Donné. It smelled/tasted like vanilla and butterscotch. We all went and laid at the pool for hours afterwards. We then had a little devotion to decompress and recap camp. When we wanted to speak, we grabbed a candle from the center to keep and spoke about our experiences thus far and how camp went for us. This was definitely needed for all of us. The restaurant we ate at tonight was so delicious. It was in a cave that overlooked a still and beautiful valley. It was a three course meal and I had quail. I never thought I would ever try quail.
January 10th, 2018
One of my friends and I woke up at 6 AM for a couples massage. They two ladies were so nice who did them. They picked us up from our hotel and drove us through this valley to this super nice building that looked like a house. It looked like something you would see out of a movie. After our massage we packed up and got breakfast. We didn’t have to leave our hotel until 1 so we just hung out by the pool. Me, noah, Ellie and Izzy walked to the Italian restaurant we ate at the other night to get some food because it was so good. Then we drove to Aquila Game Reserve for a nights stay and a safari ride. Immediately once we got there we turned around and went straight to the safari. It was so amazing.
January 11th, 2018
This morning we laid out at the pool for a long time before we left for Cape Town. It was really something to see because all of the wildlife, elephants, rhinos, hippos, were to the right of the place we were staying at. I have never seen anything like it. We left at 3 to get back to Cape Town. We got situated and went out to dinner. It was a short night and we all went to bed early because of being exhausted from being in the sun all day.
January 12th, 2018
We started off this morning going to Robben Island for a tour about the prison that Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on for 18 years. This was such a interesting experience because I have already done prior research and reading for this trip, so hearing these things was really amazing, especially coming from a gentlemen who was in the ANC and actually was imprisoned with Mandela. At one point, he asked for us to turn off the flash on our cameras because his eyes got so bad from working outside in the sun for hours. It was most fascinating to hear his personal stories and when he started giving tours in 2002. The prison officially closed in 1997, I believe. Although the tour was incredibly short, it was still remarkable to be able to walk around and learn history about the island.
After the tour we walked around the waterfront and got lunch and shopped. A few of us almost got lost finding our way back to the hotel. We took the Red Bus Tour around for a little bit. You can put headphones in and listen to the history of Cape Town playing around you. It goes for about 2 hours if you want to do the full loop around. We grabbed two more of our friends from the hotel and went to Table Mountain. Table Mountain is one of the world’s 7 wonders. I did not know this information until we arrived. They say this mountain has been around 7x longer than Mount Everest. We took the cable car up the mountain and it was absolutely beautiful but also scary because the ground rotates in a circle so you can see the full view going up. The view at the top was absolutely breathtaking. I have never seen anything like it. A bunch of the Africa Jam staff met us at the hotel bar and so we all went out to eat with them. More people met up with us and we went out dancing after. A long but adventurous day.
January 13th, 2018
We began our morning by going to Khayelitsha to visit and hang out with the campers from there at the Africa Jam Centre. It was so much fun and so sad to say goodbye. They taught us a dance and a song in Xhosa. What’s super cool about this trip is the mix of languages and accents. I’ve never been this immersed in an environment where everyone speaks more than one language. After this we went back to the hotel to grab lunch and stopped at the market. Some of us went to another winery outside of town. We had a wine tasting. From there we drove the Chapman’s Peak Drive. It is about a 45 minute drive alongside the ocean and we stopped at some of the places along the way. Just when I think this trip doesn’t get any better, it does.
January 14th, 2018
Several people went back to Camp’s Bay but instead I wandered around town by our hotel. After that we all got ready to go to the last dinner with every Africa jam staff and all of us Americans. It’s a tradition to get together on the last night. We played crazy 8’s, danced and sang together. We all gathered inside for a tradition that is done every year. We went in and sang the American national anthem while the South Africans sang there national anthem. We all prayed together and that’s when tears began. A really important Vikings game was on, one that would make or break the Vikings getting a step closer to the Super Bowl, but in South Africa is started at midnight. A bunch of the South Africans came back to the hotel and watched the game with us. A successful victory for the Vikings that night.
January 15th, 2018
Here we are. The last few hours in Cape Town. Where did time go? We all said our final goodbyes and they were too fast because none of us wanted to do it. But we are now on our way back to reality. To Minnesota. I’m ready to bring my best self that I’ve been here in South Africa back to Minnesota. We had to go through all sorts of security with flying back into the US. It was pretty ridiculous honestly. In 36 hours and 5 flights later we will be back home. But for now I am currently at the airport wondering how life will be when I get back. Thank you South Africa.