WARNING:

This is not a paper I would turn into grad school that was proofread, spell checked, and cared about but never or barely read. This is a blog that people will actually read but not grade. I write like I think and talk, which is not organized or correct in many ways. I was diagnosed with chronic sarcasm as a child, its genetic.

The views expressed on this website are entirely my own and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

500, 26 hours, 600 minutessssss

HOOOOOOW DO YOU MEASURE, MEASURE A YEAR!? In condoms distributed? In boxes of wine drank? In international phone calls? In testing campaigns? In the number of solo dance parties or times I have watched Rent?

Welp, it’s been a year since leaving the land of the free, I feel like I should have something epic to say or some profound motivational tear jerking story, but I don’t. I took a nap today, that was pretty epic.

Today is also my sisters birthday! HAPPY BIRTHDAY KATY!!! Also give a shout out to Papa, miss you! 
So one year ago I arrived in Jozi, struggled to carry my bags while sweating and wearing a stupid business casual outfit. We arrived in Mokopane to a group of singing and dancing people, I was exhausted and greasy. I felt like I should soak in all this wonderful culture but really all I wanted was to get in the shade, bathe, and go to bed. 

The last year has not been what I expected, but what ever is? Adjusting to food, fetching water, bucket baths, latrines, bugs, and transportation issues were very easy to get over. I feel like I have adapted to ‘village life’ fairly easily. The things I find difficult are hard to explain- and not being able to explain things to friends and family back home is one of the hard parts. I find it very difficult to work with the group of people at the organization I was assigned to. Gender, race, age, and language are just the tip of the ice berg. I walked into Peace Corps with all sorts of formal education, damnit I have my Masters of Public Health- I know things- then realized the org doesn’t need someone with an MPH, they need me to take viruses of their computers and someone to explain what a ‘goal’ is. The organization doesn’t need me, they need a new manager that doesn’t steal money, or blame others for the lack of function at the org, a coordinator that does his job and doesn’t abuse his position, and just plain doesn’t suck at life. Not sure where my MPH comes in there? I have zero experience in management or NGO development, but hey I am a resourceful person and know how to use google. 

After I discovered how much money is ‘missing’ from the organization (and also knowing where it went) and several situations of management blatantly dis respecting me, I decided I didn’t really want to work there anymore. So, I don’t think I will. I am starting to work at the clinic, which is very exciting! Health education, planning health campaigns, and working directly with people on prevention- that is more like it!
So was this last year a waste? Of course not. I will still go into the org probably one day a week and work with the kids and caregivers because I am hard headed and can’t let go of that part of the org. Just because some people suck, doesn’t mean the kids don’t deserve a better place to go! After being here a year I completely understand why our service is two years. It has taken me this long to get a better understanding of what is going on. It has taken the year to really understand the culture and how the history of this country has moulded the people today. I have also had small success at the org and the World AIDS Day event was pretty successful. 

Not only will I be changing where I will be working, but I recently moved homes. I hated my last housing, and there is no questions that Peace Corps should not have put me there in the first place. I, however, got rather complacent and it took me being scared for my safety to finally demand a move. I am now living with a very friendly family and very happy. The young girl has woken me up far too early several times for various reasons, but I still like her. I also have to now cross a river to get to work, which has proven to be eventful, but makes the day more fun!

The year has definitely had its ups and downs. I have had plenty of days where I wonder ‘’what the hell am I doing here” and others when I think I will never want to leave. Some of the best experiences have not been saving lives and bonding with a family (I wish, and now a potential since i live with a fam) but have been the other PCVs I have met, what I have learned about myself, and small conversations/activities with community members. Who knew I would travel half way around the world with intentions to help a community and absolutely fall in love with other Americans? Many of the other PCVs I have met are amazing and inspiring! I also have a lot of time in my own head, I think the mix of mid-twenties, first time not in school, and being thrown in a crazy different environment has forced me to do so much self-reflection that I am really sick of myself. 

Do I hate it? No, actually I love it. I love the challenge, it is not easy or glamorous but it is worthwhile. The work I am doing is hard to quantify, I do not see a lot of results. That is one reason why it is hard for us to talk about what we are doing, or having a lot of really satisfying experiences. But I know the girls who now know that abuse is, in fact, illegal is a start for something positive. Or now the caregivers know how to properly use a condom, they will hopefully teach others, that is also a start. I can give a lot of small stories like that, but most of the day to day things are difficult to explain.

So what is next? Well, I love LOVE my girls club, they are hilarious and beautiful. They also have so much potential and a thirst for knowledge- so I will continue to work with them. I will grin and bear the org once in a while, trying to get some people to quit, and give others training so they have little excuse to not do their jobs. Another volunteer and I want to start a way for learners who are about to matric to get internship, teach them how to apply to schools/scholarships, and set up a way for them to apply for jobs. With several other PCVs, we will put on a camp for young girls and teach them how awesome it is to be a young female. At the clinic I will be doing all sorts of health ed, but my goals there are, before I leave, to have a functioning and sustainable HIV support group, peer educators, and a support/educational group for young mothers. I also got pretty involved with Peace Corps stuff and am the chairperson for the Diversity committee and helping train SA 25 so I think I will stay busy. Who knows, maybe I’ll run another marathon… 

I guess I have done more than take naps and read Harry Potter.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

You donate, I run, a child gets an education

As I believe most of you know I am a fan of running. I am not fast or competitive, or really even look like a runner, but I enjoy it. Running has changed dramatically since living in SA but for the most part I have continued on, even completing my first ever marathon through SOWETO in November! WHOOP WHOOP! And the next race I do will have a little more meaning...

The Longtom Committee with two of the KLM scholarship recipients who just graduated and are now off to University! From right: Veronica (PCV), me, Sandile Tshabalala (KLM scholar), Jordan (PCV), Alan (PCV), Uplands staff, Gugu Nyathi (KLM scholar),

Sandile's story
Gugu's story

Although I live and work in the community of Danisane I will also be helping raise money for another long term Peace Corps project. The KLM foundation was started by two former PCVs and each year sends a worthy learner from a rural area to one of the most prestigious schools in southern Africa, Uplands College. One way we raise money to be able to sponsor a learner for 6 years of tuition and board is through the Longtom Marathon. This is a very exciting time for PCVs as the majority of us participate and one of the only opportunities we have to see each other.

Please check out the KLM website for more detailed information on what exactly I am raising money for:  http://www.klm-foundation.org/  for the general organization site, and to meet the learners currently being funded through KLM and the Longtom fundraiser:http://www.klm-foundation.org/our_scholars/meet_our_scholars.html. I was lucky to be able to visit this school and meet several of the learners KLM is sponsoring one on one, and after listening to their stories I can promise you this is a worthy cause!

http://www.klm-foundation.org/

The marathon is either a half or an ultra, 21.1 K or 54K. I will be participating in half marathon. After the marathon I did in November, and the hike I went on this December, I thought my mom might actually come here and slap me across the face if I did the ultra, and really that is just a lot of K’s.

The race is March 31st in Sabie, Mpumalanga Province. This is a personal goal for me to train and completing the race, but also to help a worthy cause of helping a child receive a better education. I have committed to not only running but to also raising a minimum of $100.00, and any amount you could spare will be appreciated and helpful. All donations are also tax deductible. To donate money please go to the KLM website to make a donation, just click on the 'donate' photo. Make sure to put my name in the white box where it asks for the Longtom runner you want to sponsor so it goes toward the minimum I committed to raise.

If you have any problems with the website let me know, if you tend to get equally frustrated with websites feel free to send a check, see below!

The online donation is preferable, but if you need to mail in a check, please make it payable to "Kgwale Le Mollo (US)" and send it to:

KLM Foundation (US)
c/o Bowen Hsu
461 So. Bonita Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91107
Please make sure to include a note that your donation is on my behalf.

Thanks so much for your support, and especially for supporting the child who is chosen next year to attend Uplands College. I'll let you know how the weekend goes, and how many funds we, Peace Corps volunteers, collected.

peace
Sami

Friday, January 13, 2012

For the first time, people were not staring at ME

So, why weren’t they staring at me? I mean, I was in Mokopane (my shopping town) on the ‘black’ side where I usually endure the normal calls in Afrikaans for money or for someone to help me hold my stuff (um, no thanks) as I walk through the gauntlet. But I also was staring at something else, trying to figure out what was in front of me.

A white woman was wearing a Sepedi dress and walking with a black man. The black man was holding a very adorable little girl who appeared to be coloured (mixed race). 
  • Side note to my Merican readers, saying coloured is not offensive or like saying it in the states. It is the racial class- what is said when referring to a person who is mixed race.
When I initially saw this woman my first thought was ‘she must be some foreign white lady here for a couple weeks volunteering or something. Then I realized these two people were probably a couple and maybe this is their child, and was shocked and thought ‘well probably not, since I have never seen an interracial couple in South Africa.”

Then I mentally slapped myself. 

I realized that after being here a year I have grown very accustomed to the ‘us’ and ‘them’ attitude that I have always tried so hard to fight. Some parts of South Africa are much more integrated and have a higher ‘coloured’ population or just more mixing of people than Mokopane, and Limpopo as a whole. When looking on the map to see how race is distributed it is obvious to see Limpopo is mostly black with some specs of white. In the towns, such as Mokopane, there are people who are not black but groups are not frequently mixed. When I asked someone at the organization why it is like that she simply explained “the Indians own the shops, and there are some china shops and the white people will go to checkers and pick n pay, but not to the black parts” ok, that sounds simple enough, but doesn’t really answer any question, especially since it is now 2012, nearly 18 years post-apartheid government. 

So as I walked behind the couple and child I realized the first thoughts that came to my mind were drastically different than what I would have thought a year ago. I could see the people sitting on the sidewalks and passing by not only pointing but making loud comments. Some people cheered the man for ‘getting a white woman’, some laughed, and some just starred with a confusing look. I was happy to see them, it was in a way a relief. I know in bigger cities there is more integration, but there simply is not in Mokopane. Another plus that even though this was very weird to people, it wasn't a bad thing. 

I have no idea if these people were in fact a couple or even if they were South African, but it doesn’t matter. Everyone around reacted as if they were, including myself, and the reactions say a lot. I was surprised and happy and what bothers me is a year ago I probably would not have noticed. Now a year ago I was in the states, and race relations there are much different. Growing up in Lansing I never really had to deal with race relations to the extend as here. After almost a year of getting beat over the head about Black, White, Coloured, Indian, American, African, Afrikaner, blah blah blah and how we are all different and seeing the separation I can no longer be na├»ve and think race doesn’t matter. It would actually be ignorant for me to try and think so. Does this mean I think people are pre determined to be a certain way or one is better than the other? Of course not, but it means that race is so ingrained into society that it will take several more generations before we see true integration. It is no doubt I get marriage proposals, told I am beautiful (even on particularly nasty days), or other forms of admiration because I am a white American. When I have conversations with people and they want me to find them a white person to marry, then I ask why, the answers always prove how far the country is away from race not mattering (keep in mind I have lived in a rural area-not a city which would be different). 

Then, I see a couple (well, maybe a couple) that is not going with social norms, a white woman and a black man. I have to remind myself that the United States went through this period as well. However, I am sure we can all agree with the much different histories it is not the same, but comparable. So, just like the States, South Africa will undoubtedly take several decades to change the social norm, and some areas will be much more advanced than others. America is still fighting racism and working toward equality, I mean, Brown vs Board of ed was in 1954 and still today no one can deny (well, people try) that things are not equal. I very often get frustrated and upset when it comes to gender and race and despite small victories hope I will never get too used to the disparities, I fear too many people are ‘used to it’ therefore accept it.

And hopefully when I get back to America I won’t be shocked when I see people of different races together. That would be awkward.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Part Two- new pants and back to reality




View from our room
our own beach!!! just watch out for cow pies!
After a week of being a mountain person and enjoying the company of Charlie, Kelley, and Cathy it was time for me to join up with another group for my second vacation. I joined with another group of PCVs and we spent some time jumping around from backpackers and places seeing the most spectacular views and enjoying each other’s company. Two of the backapckers we stayed were rather remote, one of which we had to be picked up from a worker in a hefty bakkie- and was one of the bumpiest rides I have ever had the pleasure to be on. This BPs was probably my favourite; the staff and other guests were all great and had a very chill and friendly attitude. The best part was the view, making the rough ride worth it. We were on top of a hill looking over a beach, and since I know my words could never do it justice hopefully the pictures will give a glimpse of the awesome-ness! 



Anything But Clothes party!
We had several relaxing days a couple of random nights. One backpackers threw an ABC party, meaning Anything But Clothes. Given the crowd that was at the BP we were not worried too much about looking ridiculous or not wearing enough. Most of us decided to use trash bags and duct tape, sounded simple and that it would properly cover the essentials, however, with the high temps and humidity it proved to be a bit…sticky!  

oh yea, I also got awesome pants. 

the owner...
looking a bit...trashy





bunny chow, and my new hat!
the gang!
Durban was a great time, consistent hot showers and a bed and going out in the city with friends makes me feel almost like I am a normal person. Wearing clothes similar to what I would wear in the states, and being able to walk in the city at night- speak English quickly and drink beer from a bottle and not skirt around cultural issues- very refreshing! We also ate aweome Bunny Chow (Indian food, bread and curry stuff- 1/4 loaf for 8rand!) oh and i bought the best hat EVER at the indian market! 

really?
It was wonderful being around so many PCVs and seeing so much of this beautiful country. I was sad to leave Durban knowing that many of the friends I was leaving I would not see again until April, but ready to get back to site. I didn’t necessarily miss my org or the village but feeling a bit guilty being away for so long, running low on Rand, a bit sick of packing and unpacking and lugging Diego around- and my towel was really dirty…
view on the way home...
NO AFRIKAANS HERE!
Getting back to Sandsloot was not nearly a as dreadful as I imagined in my head. Because I high tailed out of the village after a couple of bad weeks I was afraid that feeling would come back as soon as I stepped off the taxi. I entered the rank with my huge bag, sweating and wearing my awesome new hat and pants, passed through the first gauntlet ignoring the propositions and obnoxious comments and smiled when I saw the friendly Gogo who never lets me pass without a smile and a greeting. I walked to my section of the rank which is much more enjoyable than the first because all of the drivers know me and make sure to put me on the correct taxi. I greeted Man (yes a man, but that is his name, Man) who was happy to see me because according to him, “aaaaaaaaaaaah it has been tooooooo long” and was pleased when everyone escorted me to an almost full taxi (meaning not a long waiting time until departure) and I got a decent seat for all of my stuff (meaning not the back row). On the way back to the Mapela area, I hoped we would turn into Sandsloot- but apparently my taxi karma is running low and we zoomed passed the Sandsloot dirt road and headed to a village across the tar road. Damn. I was going to have to walk. I reached my house an hour later and was quick to throw my bag off. I saw my host sister Matletlula- only living at this new house two weeks before leaving she is still apprehensive with me, but I managed to keep a conversation going with her for a record 4 minutes. After searching Diego for my keys which is now dirty and smelly I entered my room and took a deep breath.

It was a very hot day and I just wanted to sit in my bucket bath drinking water until bed time. I went in the main house in hopes to put a water bottle in their freezer and after the customary “gogo” (kind of like saying ‘knock knock’) I entered and looked around, then, I scared a Gogo (yes-same word but means grandmother). After 20 minutes talking to her I learn she is Linky’s (the woman I live with) mother, and she is super cute. 

After some time trying to lower my body temp by squatting in my bucket bath I decided it would be a good idea to face the sun again and go get some cold drink. Still being loyal to the tuck shop where I used to live I reached the river separating Sandsloot (new home) and Danisane (old home) and realized it is, in fact, rainy season and the river is significantly higher than when I left, meaning my normal rocks I jump on were covered. Well, after my hike I consider myself a pro at crossing rivers so I went for it…and slipped. By the time I made it to the tuck shop I was pretty covered in mud and could care less when I saw a beautiful site…an ICE CREAM MACHINE! Yes, in fact this tuck shop in a village of 1300 now has a soft serve ice cream machine, R2.50 a cone. SCORE! 

I enjoyed a simple conversation with the worker Nora and was sad to find out the other worker was in the hospital after being sick and losing her unborn child. I had a couple conversations about her baby before leaving and when she said she was going to the doctor over the holidays (a day when the tuck shop was closed, because she has been working every day for months so could not go) and was hopeful when I got back that everyone would know how far along she was, and of course hoping her health was better. She was not sure how long she had been pregnant, but by the size of her stomach and when I first noticed a bump I was guessing about 5-6 months. After trying to ask questions, trying to figure out how a pregnancy that far a long could go so wrong when she has been regularly visiting the local clinic, I realized the questions were far too technical for anyone to understand what I was saying- and those questions normally are never asked. It was simple, she got sick and the baby died, it happens, it’s sad but she will be ok. And that is that. 

I still have not been able to talk to her and will not bombard into her home asking questions as that would be incredibly intrusive and very far from the cultural norm. The normal thing to do with a death is simply give money for the funeral costs, but in this case I am not sure what will happen but will certainly try and keep in the loop. 

On the way back to my house I enjoyed greeting the old man I used to live with and all of the people on the way. As I almost hopped on the first rock to cross the river I heard yelling from the centre, and saw two people waving me to come to them… it was one of the coordinators and one of the caregivers. This was my first day back and the last place I wanted to be was the centre, but, I had to go. When I got up to the centre with my fake smile and happy greetings I learned they wanted me because a report was due to the department and they couldn’t figure out how to make the house work. They also needed in another room which they could not figure out how to open, so essentially I was there to plug in a mouse and unlock a door. What can I say, Peace Corps, doing valuable work daily. 

As soon as they were set I went back to my house. Now I remembered why on my travel days I normally hibernate in my room! 

A friend welcoming me back...
Anyway, the previous couple weeks had been a world wind of all sorts of stuff. Although the first day back brought bad news and annoyance, it also brought an unexpected good feeling about my site. I actually enjoyed it. The stress and BS from the weeks before vacation had faded away and I was glad to be there. I was also excited to go to work, mostly because I was and still am anxious to see if any of the threats of people quitting be followed through and to see how everyone’s attitudes would be. I have learned a lot the past year and my romantic view and expectations about my service came crumbling down, which is a good thing. Now that I have a better idea of who I am working with and what I am up against- I am excited about 2012!! 

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Adventures of Diego and Tinyiko Part One- the Epic Hike!


After a pretty stressful couple months I was able to take a deep breath, pack up Diego (my backpack) and head out to see other PCVs. The last couple of weeks before leaving for vacation were not all butterflies and rainbows, but I survived as I led a successful but crazy World AIDS Day event and the backlash of negative attitudes from management after the Department of Risk Management and Labour concluded an investigation of fraud and corruption. Although I am unable to really discuss the investigation for obvious reasons, I can say the centre was not a fun place to be. Although as a PCV I have little to do with anything that was happening with the department I was exempt from being on the other end of anger and short tempers.



Day one, at Kelley's site!
As I left Limpopo into Kwa Zulu Natal all of the problems of the last couple weeks left my mind and I was excited to see some familiar faces. After meeting up in Richard Bay and grocery shopping for our hike four of us started the first part of our vacation in Salt Rock/Shakas rock near Bolito. It was very relaxing as we stayed at The Secret Spot Backpackers, walking distance to the beach. We enjoyed the backpackers and staff (ROZZ!) and friendly animals which we named (and I think some other guests might have thought those the real names, whatever) but the best part was meeting up with another PCV and her family. The Croffut family treated us to a wonderful dinner and wine, and we appreciated their love and hospitality more than we could explain! It is always fun to meet other friends families, and they were just as fun and kind hearted as Sam, so we had a great time! The other wonderful part was the beach and we found slush puppies, which, well, I can’t even explain our excitement about our ‘slushie americanos’. 
Kelley, me, Sam, Cathy, and Charlie 

I was out of the village, out of Limpopo, and not going to think about Peace Corps stuff for three weeks.

The nice officer showing us to the trail
After departing Salt Rock it was time to head to the Underberg area where we would start our epic hike. After a day of traveling and 7 (yes, 7) taxis and some questionable taxi rank meat we finally made it to the Sani Pass Backpackers. We all had large backpacks with hot/cold clothes and food for a week, sleeping bags and tents. At this point I was wondering how I would be able to survive hiking up a mountain for four day with all of this stuff when I struggled getting in and out of a taxi. We camped at the backpackers in effort to save money, so of course it stormed. After a wet night with little sleep we headed to the trail head. Walking from the backpackers to the trail we had to go a couple K down the road, luckily for us a cop stopped informing us we passed the start, and he very kindly showed us to the trail. That should have given us a clue how the rest of our hike would go! 

The route we planned was partly on the Dragonhead Trail and party on the Sani Pass trail in the southern Drakensburg mountains. We estimated about 30 ish K to the top, sleeping in two different caves and on the escarpment. Trails are not marked and much of it is overgrown. I was a little nervous considered I have never really hiked in the mountains, especially not for four days. 


up, up and up
Day 1 was both beautiful and difficult. The day started (after finding the trail and leaving the cop) sunny and hot. Right away we found ourselves crossing the river several times and when the trail would fade in and out I realized how hard this would be. After a couple K our spirits were still high, and I was blown away with every view. The Draks are a bit different from Limpopo, and I was loving every sight. After hiking straight up several different times in the heat we took a break. I was dehydrated and did not snack enough so was feeling pretty sick. We looked at the map after questioning where we were and realized we were, well, off track. The straight up we just did was not necessary and we needed to get back to the water and turn a different way. We got back on track just to find ourselves questioning ourselves again. We climbed through a cave where we had to jump over crevasses and pretty much swing on a tree to make it across, well I did because my legs are short! Once again, we went a couple K out of our way and had to back track but eventually found the trail we needed. It was afternoon at this point and the rain clouds were coming. After a couple more K and cold rain we reached a point where I thought to myself “no F’n way”. The hike at this point was still beautiful, but we found ourselves several time scaling rocks and on all fours. I had a more difficult time with some of the larger rocks as there was no way I could simply step up. 

“This is NOT hiking, this is CRAWLING!” I snarled to Charlie, who thought that was rather funny and was able to snap a pic of me where you can only see my backpack… 

Cathy was doing a great job leading, and made it up the part that I was cursing. I could not hide my fear as I could picture myself slipping and falling back and taking Charlie down with me. It would have been exponentially easier without a giant pack, but would have still been a challenge. Using hands and feet we had to pretty much rock climb to the top of this peak, Cathy at the top helped me spot where to hold on to and assured me I wouldn’t die. “If you can grab even a flat surface, it’s enough to hold onto” she said, and knowing she has climbed plenty and I had to choice I went for it. I did my best to climb the boulders and kissed the top when I made it safely. 

Cave, night 1
After a couple more hours and one more time getting off course and back on, we were on the lookout for our cave. We knew it was not marked so did our best to get our eagle eyes out. We were freezing and wet and nervous to pass it. Cathy and I thought we saw potential caves, so we put our packs down and did some exploring while the other two looked in another direction. Cathy found a cave, but it was so difficult to get to without a pack and coming from it would be nearly impossible with our stuff we knew it couldn’t be that one. We met back with Kelley and Charlie and luckily Kelley found a trail leading up to what we hoped to be the cave. It was around 4:00pm and had been hiking for 8 hours gaining considerable distance and elevation. We saw a pile of rocks where the trail either continued forward or went straight up to our potential cave, we started hiking up for about another 15 minutes through thick vegetation and were beyond relieved to see another person. A shirtless man with a pop belly greeted us and confirmed it was the cave. There was another group sleeping there for the night. Comparing stories we realized how far out off the way we went and some of the straight ups we did were not necessary, but we made it! The cave was huge and I was so happy to be in a dry slightly warmer place to sleep. Most of my stuff stayed dry, but even with my rain cover for my bag some stuff was wet. Not exactly sure how far hiked, we estimated 15-20 K. After more trail mix and peanut butter we were all in very good moods in the cave. I was proud to have completed the day but also nervous for the rest of the trail. 

Day three, heading down
Day two started wet and my stomach was not great. Despite using iodine to clean my water I had diarrhea and was dreading the day. I drank as much water as possible and took some anti-diarrheal pills I luckily packed but still felt horrible. Every incline was more difficult and I quickly fell behind. The group was patient was did not complain when I had to run off the trail. The morning passed bringing more rain and I luckily began to feel better. By noon, after five hours of hiking, I felt almost back to myself and kept with the AD pills and water. Our hike began harder between fatigue, cold rain, and an increasingly tougher terrain. Then came the realization of just how wrong we were. We missed a turn, but where? There was no other trail, anywhere! We were told there would be a pile of rocks and a faint trail to the left, but nothing. We continued forward hoping to catch on to another trail that would lead us to the same destination, just more difficult. After a couple more K, crossing waterfalls and rough rocky climbing we had to re-evaluate our plan and make some decisions.  We were pretty sure we could keep going and make it to the escarpment and sleep there for the night but knew it would be very tough and miserable. We had been hiking for about 6 hours, were cold, wet, and the fog was only getting thicker. After considerable debate and weighing the risks we realized we had to turn around. With a sense of defeat we had to completely change our plans, and add more K’s to our hike. There were so many if’s, “if it wasn’t raining so hard” “if it wasn’t so cold” “if it wasn’t so foggy and we could actually see two feet in front of us” “if we KNEW what was over that peak” “if we weren't racing the sun” so, although a part of all of us wanted to risk it and keep going, we knew the safe and responsible choice was to go back to the cave we slept in the previous night. On the way back we tried to find the other trail, and although I think we might have that was also too risky to go on that one as if we were wrong we’d be pretty screwed. 



We made it back to the first cave before the sun set and did our best to get circulation back in our hands and feet. I felt horrible, although relieved to be safe in a dry cave I was still recovering from being sick, muscles hurt, my feet were cut and bleeding (as were charlies) and was frustrated that we weren’t going to make it all the way up. After stretching and sitting a bit I began to feel better, and our feeling of defeat faded away as our circulation came back. 

Day three started early, we would be back tracking to the base of the mountain. By now, we had a better idea where to go as we remembered all the wrong turns we took we were determined to stay on the right trails and make it back early. Our spirits were in good shape, by now we accepted the fact we were going back and decided to take public transport to the top of the mountain to the chalet in Lesotho where we planned to stay. We went down much more than we did up which was much more difficult that I expected. Charlie and I had wrapped our feet and I was wearing my hiking boots in stead of my hiking sandals which helped a bit, but they still hurt pretty bad and going down hurt much more than going up. 

near the bottom
Every steep part we went down I remembered two days going up and seeing it from the top I couldn’t believe we did it all plus the parts when we were off course. Because the whole day before was continuous rain the trail was very muddy and slippery. There were parts when we all had to go down on our butts, even those with long legs! Some parts going down were equally as frightening as going up, but mostly I accepted I was going to fall and get muddy. And I did, we all did. Our ankles were tired and everything sore. Most falls didn’t hurt too bad and I was able to avoid some by voluntarily getting on my butt- but some were unexpected and not so graceful, and getting up with a giant wet pack is not always easy. 

We were tired. We had to be close. We wanted to just be done. When all of us felt especially beat we could see the beginning of the trail in a distance giving us the boost we needed. We knew we only had about a half an hour left and trekked on, we made it to the flat bush by the river leading to the road and were ecstatic, then, it happened.  My stomach. It had been 6 hours since my last AD pill and I guess when they say take them every 4-6 hours they mean it. I was fourth in the line, closest to Cathy and yelled “um. Oh god. Hold on.” And they saw my pack fly off me as I ran into the bush. Kelley and Charlie were in the front and didn’t know what was going on, most likely frustrated that we were stopping so close to the road. I emerged from the bush and said “shit. They aren't kidding about every 6 hours” which I guess explained why I stopped and the annoyance suddenly turned a little funnier. 

customs, haha
We made it to the road, walked a couple K to the nearest hotel and paid for transport to the border of Lesotho, then took another public transport from the first border check up the mountain to the next border check then to the backpackers both times paying much more than we wanted. It took over an hour to get up the mountain, and we understood why it was so hard and expensive for us to find transport. The road up was less than, er-developed- but because of that is was beautiful. I couple times we thought we might roll backwards off the mountain and were going through thick fog. The four of us have been here long enough, however, to just accept the shady transport and enjoy it. Despite it being a bit uncomfortable, the way up was pretty fun! It was pretty sweet to see the way up in the hiking perspective and the driving perspective! 

LESOTHO!
We finally made it to the top! We were in Lesotho, bruised, sore, and cold. It was Christmas eve and we were finally able to relax! We originally planned to camp while there, but we were so cold and everything was wet! Our options were either the Sani Top Chalet which only had expensive rooms left, or a minimal backpackers that was affordable. We chose the backpackers, which is close to the warm chalet home of the highest pub in Africa. The backpackers and chalet is located in a very rural village area with no electricity, but it is beautiful! We spent time in the pub by the fire and drank hot cocoa and tried the local beer, and cooked with the propane stove. The pub overlooks the mountains and we were able to see several rainbows. We were so exhausted we went to bed early and woke up Christmas morning to clear skies and sunshine. We enjoyed our Christmas breakfast at the chalet and went for a walk through the village. On the way back from our walk we saw the clouds coming, we got back just in time for hail!! It wasn’t exactly a white Christmas, but I guess hail is kind of winter-ish?! We couldn’t believe how cold it was, and it is there summer! I can’t imagine the winter! 
rainbow!

Sani Pass, elevation 9400ft
It was a very relaxing beautiful day. I didn’t really think too much about the holiday as I was sad not being with my family, but I appreciating the experiences I had had so far. That evening before our fancy dinner of rice and beans I was able to call my family (service in one little spot outside) which was nice. When I reached them they were opening presents, even though sad I was not there with them I appreciated the opportunity to talk with them!


our walk on christmas




feet.hurt.so.bad
We spoke one of the owners of the chalet and learned more about the area, and also learned more about how far we had actually hiked. We realized we almost made it to the top, meaning we essentially hiked up AND down the mountain, then drove back up. We agreed no regrets the day we turned around, and after thinking more about all we did I really have no regrets and although being lost and turning around, I do not feel like we failed. It would have been awesome to complete our original plan, but we saw beautiful scenery and hiked a LOT of kilometres! Our group got along great and I have countless wonderful memories with the four of us. 
highest pub in Africa!!! 

The day after Christmas we went we got back down the mountain and were off to Durban. I loved Lesotho, despite the cold, and I think that week was by far the most beautiful travel weeks of my life. I was proud of all of us for making it and looking back even the tough parts seem enjoyable now. Although sad to see the mountains go I was excited to head to Durban, meet up with more PCVs and start part two of my vacation!