This 2010 summer I went on a trip with 14 students from my school to South Africa. It was my first time being overseas and as nervous as I was, I knew I would have a fantastic time. I was anticipating great food, beautiful people, and amazing World Cup Soccer games and I got all of those and so much more.
After 24 hours of being in airports and planes, I couldn’t wait to stand up, stretch my legs, and have an unforgettable experience. My classmates and I were greeted by a man named Bobby, who owned the place we were staying called The Savannah. It was a cheetah reserve with 3000 acres of land and as many different animals as one could imagine. There were about 11 different houses and farms on the property where others lived. The excitement on everyone’s faces was priceless as we got off the freeway and onto the dirt road that would lead us to our home for the next two and a half weeks.
On our first full day, we woke up bright and early to have breakfast and head over to Relebohile Day Care center to meet some of the children who lived in a village called Parys. Before we arrived, our teacher had told us that seventy percent of the children at the daycare center have the HIV virus. As we walked into the child center the kids were so excited to see all of us. They ran towards us with open arms wanting to be held and played with. We were equally as excited and were so ready to have fun with all of them. They were some of the most intelligent students I have ever met, and I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of English they knew just from being in the daycare center. Despite their living conditions and financial situations, those children were the happiest kids I’ve seen in a long time. We were lucky enough to visit with the kids two more times throughout the trip and they bonded in our hearts every time.
Going to the World Cup soccer games was unbelievable. The energy was high and the fans were passionate. Everyone bought a vuvuzela horn and blew it loud and proud. Watching the crowd was just about as fun was watching the game itself. People would dress up in full body suits painted with the colors of their nation. I was so surprised by how many different people I saw and no one was shy to represent for their country.
Bobby, the owner of The Savannah, also brought Nascar to South Africa and we were lucky enough to experience it firsthand. We took a two hour drive west of Johannesburg and met one of the South African race car drivers. We all took turns riding in the car around the track three times at 180 miles per hour. It was such an adrenaline rush! There was so much dust inside the car but it didn’t even faze me until I got out because I was more focused on holding on tight to the seat and surviving. After the Nascar trip, we went to visit an elephant sanctuary. The elephants were trained and we learned all about them. We got to touch them and they gave us elephant kisses. They put their trunk on our faces and inhaled and that was an elephant kiss! We were left with dirt all over our faces but it was so worth it. After the elephant sanctuary, we stopped at an indoor market to do a little shopping. The merchants were extremely polite, too polite. They wanted to shake all our hands, pull us in their shop, show us every single item, and ask how much we wanted to pay for them. It was super fun at first, but once they started being too pushy, we were over it and not in any mood to be hassled about buying something from them.
For the rest of the trip we went on amazing hikes and safaris. One of the staff members at The Savannah, Jimmy, took us on a walk to look at animal feces. It was kind of weird at first, but there was such amazing landscape and views from where we were that I really got into it and appreciated being there. Jimmy was one of the smartest and kindest men I have ever met. He was about thirty years old, spoke nine languages, and had been working with The Savannah for sixteen years. He has a wife and four kids and he is a great, hard-working man. Most of the students bonded with him and once we met his family, almost all of us broke out into tears. They were such a loving family and some of the nicest, most genuine people I’ve ever met.
When it was finally time to say goodbye and leave Africa, we thanked everyone for their incredible hospitality and many of us left in tears. It was so hard to leave because of all the amazing people we had met, and all the fun we had. Everyone was so grateful for the experience and I don’t think I would have changed anything about it.
When one leaves a country that is so affected by poverty and sickness, it makes them more appreciative for what they have. I definitely think I appreciate all the hard work my mom puts in for me to have a good life. It took an expensive trip to an extremely poor area to realize how blessed and lucky I am to have more than what I need.
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