Weekend on the Rim of Africa

The Western Cape of South Africa is home to some very impressive mountains that stand as rocky monuments above the cape vineyards and farms. Connecting the Cederberg Mountains in the north to the Outeniqua Mountains in the south-east, the Rim of Africa trail has been born to lead hikers into this unfrequented mountain wilderness. Last weekend I followed the trail’s creators to witness part of the adventure of developing ‘a trail of no ordinary proportions’. Continue reading

why i’m here

this trip to africa was all so i could come to ndera, rwanda. it’s just outside of the capital city kigali and but is just like most of rwanda– full of subsistence farmers that live in small rural communities. this is the land of a thousand hills with long and bumpy dirt roads and green plants everywhere. the rains that continue throughout the entire year make the earth extremely fertile– spit something out and in all likelihood it will grow– but when you go to a local health clinic and spend all day weighing 50 kids from the area with severe and moderate malnutrition you have to ask why is this happening and how can we stop it.

this is what the face of a child with malnutrition can look like. you would think all the children would just get thinner and thinner until their skin and bones– but you would be wrong. many times children actually start collecting fluid in their skin because their body can no longer hold it in the bloodstream (a condition nicknamed kwash). puffiness forms right under the eyes, the checks become rounded and the hair thins from the head. the tummy enlarges into a potbelly and the arms and legs become larger but with a skin that is pulled tight by all the fluid being collected. at first glance, the child can look healthy- making it hard for many people to notice. it’s the children with malnutrition that never develop kwash that are so striking to see- and let me tell you, when you see a seven month old baby that weighs six pounds, it’s hard not to start looking out to blame.

so how does this still happen? it starts with not eating enough and/or not eating enough of the right things but leads to issues of desperate poverty, education, access to land, local, national, and international politics, and flaws with how food aid works globally. all of these issues could be seen when we were at the clinic weighing and measuring the heights of the children to calculate their weight for height and weight for age measurements.

what got me was that this clinic had been reporting zero cases of malnutrition to fall in line with a new push to completely eradicate it from rwanda- which left many families and children hidden from aid for the sake of politics. to change this, brad had gone out to many villages himself to find them and tell them to come to get help. for the ones with severe malnutrition they get a fortified peanut butter called plumpy nut. for the moderate malnutrition cases, they should get a fortified corn and soy blend porridge (called csb) but because none of the supply has left the united states in a while they will get nothing.

and when the severe cases of malnutrition are healthy enough to be considered moderately malnourished, they will then get nothing. when production or trade of food aid from the united states doesn’t work out properly, people here will loose the little ground they have gained to have healthier children. this shows the dependency and sole reliance on handouts to solve global malnutrition.

and this is why food aid is broken. no more just giving out food assistance without realizing the true solution to this issue lives in the hands of the very families that can’t feed their children. let’s invest in them, believe in them, love and cherish them.




A platform for local experts, many of whom have never had an accessible way to tell their story or publish materials, including a Maasai Natural Healer in Northern Tanzania. Continue reading

Grootbos Foundation

Grootbos Foundation

The Grootbos Foundation strives to make conservation of the environment able to financially ‘earn it’s keep’ as well as make it accessible to the poor so all people can learn and value it’s preservation. Continue reading

one month in

it’s been one month. i can hardly believe it. it seems like just a week ago i was dragging my bags through new york city and london, but now i hear stories of snow and finals back in baltimore, and i know time has flown by.
.  .  .  .

last week i went out climbing with a couple that lives down the street, rachel and jeremy. jeremy is a professional rock climbing guide for places all over the world (and somehow works as a lawyer too) and rachel is certifying as a rock climbing guide instructor. they both have been climbing for ever, and really had a lot to teach me. after jeremy helped us set up (and i suspect make sure i wasn’t some lazy american that didn’t know really how to climb), he left us and rachel and i had the entire day to trad climb around a local crag. it hides within a hill, so to rachel and jeremy’s knowledge, no other climbers know of it, and there are no signs of any climbing other than them either.

nothing that we did was too difficult or technical, so it was a really relaxed day and i got to work on my double-rope trad belay and just absorb being outside on the side of a rock face by the bay. a baboon troop of over a dozen wondered below us, and we watched them fight with each other from our perch on the rocks.

the route we decided to establish was a traverse across a part of the face they had not climbed on before. at the bottom of the face there is a lot of growth that makes it hard to get to, and above the roof there is just a nice gradual slope to the top. we used almost the entire length of rope going across, which meant that for most of the climb, rachel and i could not see each other. the only signs i had that she was still climbing was the slow movement of the rope through the clips, and that surely she would yell if she started to fall. so for the most part, i was left on the quiet rock face, slowly belaying out rope for rachel and listening the the ocean.

i picked the name “appletiser” for our climb, after a brilliant drink they have here that is just carbonated apple juice. i loved heading out climbing with rachel, and i hope i can do it again before we hit the road traveling.

.  .  .  .

i have been living in scarborough since i arrived in south africa, but this sunday, the entire family and i move to the house in hout bay.  it is a beautiful town, with lots of things to do in it’s beach-front center, so i am really looking forward to it. i am also really looking forward to it because i will have a real espresso machine, more books to read (the couple that we are house sitting for have great taste), a full yard and a garden, mountains with hiking trails surrounding the house, and yet another change of pace. we will be there until the new years, where after another hot second in another house, we will be finally hitting the road (on janurary 4th) and really starting to move.

i am also excited for hout bay because that is where i will be when brad flies in on his way to his new job in burundi. he got a job training nurses and seeing his own patients, for a great non-profit. brad will get to cape town on the 26th and stay with us until we head all leave cape town on the 4th. it will be really good to see him again, and to also to have someone from back home to share all this with.

.  .  .  .

for work, we have interviewed two more guides; steve the walking safari guide (above), and doug – who uses ‘activation’ to help the body perform better and that whole body, mind, spirit thing. doug is moving into a new place of work at the start of the year, at phakalane. it is a beautiful hide-away place where they have yoga groups, cooking classes, trance dances, sweat lodges, a couple rooms for guest to stay at, outdoor showers and baths everywhere, trails roaming the property, an amazing meditation room,  and so much more. it was all started a woman (who is a sangoma) who owned the property and just really wanted to make it into a natural healing center. she did a great job. i broke her curtain. even after that, we were all invited to lunch with everyone that was there (only a handful) and ate on the deck outside. around our raw salad lunch, the discussion was about nature, global traveling, childhood and education, evolution (not genes alone), and other normal topics. i wonder what supper conversation is like.

.  .  .  .

i don’t know how many people in the states know about this, but the 2010 fifa world cup is going to be hosted in south africa. there rarely is a day when i don’t hear about it anymore. cape town is full of it. the other night in downtown cape town, they had the draw for which teams would be playing where. roddy and i stopped by and ended up almost getting lost in the masses of people. it was a real test to see how well south africa could manage the event, and from what i could tell, they did well. in the crowd were many families, locals from all sorts of backgrounds and foreigners alike. and while the drunk people were not out of hand by the time we left, we left before the event even started. i am glad that this will be my only taste of the world cup, as i am sure it will get much more hectic and overwhelming.

.  .  .  .

time to meet the family: roddy, rachel, sarita, and lorien.  we went down to the beach for the girl’s supper and to take the family’s christmas card photo. they suggested some of the typical poses, i suggested one that was more true to their style.

after the photo, we had fun doing more poses on the beach and had some running around near the water.

.  .  .  .

a photo of the killer reflection of the sun off the ocean i meant to have for the last blog (this would almost be all white to the naked eye), and other things about the past ten days:

- after spending a total of about 5 hours, i have almost untangled my [insert adjective] kite,
- i made my own sushi for the first time,
- there was one of my all-time favorite sunsets ever, and instead of a camera i had wine,
- i read my first ever james bond book, ‘diamonds are forever’,
- am halfway through a thousand splendid suns (fantastic),
- i cut my own hair, but without a mirror and only using my reflection off a window outside,
- had a great time second-hand shopping for clothes, and
- i bought myself my own xmas gift from a local shop that i should be getting sometime later today…

all in all, good. it’s like a working (40hr/week) vacation.

i hope all is well, and cheers to it being snuggle season.


hitting the ground running

[i fully admit this blog is way too long, but the programs are too amazing to not mention in their entirity. if you do not like reading all these words (decampo), just enjoy the pretty pictures]

after a day of settling in at scarborough, i was off again, heading to grootbos nature reserve. we were traveling to this five-star lodge to make a sample promotional video of the lodge, a dvd/online video series about the lodge’s social upliftment and conservation projects, and a video and audio recording of our first “great guide.” this was to be a test-run of what is to come for the next year; staying at a lodge for four or five nights in exchange for video and photos, and getting to record a great guide for our website too. not bad, right?

well… this lodge has four programs, amazing programs, and we originally had three nights to cover them and our guide and the lodge. this made for a very very busy visit, where i never was able to do anything that the typical tourist that visit are able to do. like shark-cage diving, whale watching, penguin and sea lion colony visits, guided tours through the nature reserve, horseback riding, or flying over the local region. i was left running around interviewing almost every staff member, students of the educational programs, and getting photos and video of the lodge. and then every night i downloaded the video so i can record more the next day, which tended to keep me up past one am. the work level turned out to be too much for three days, and we had to stay an extra day to cover everything.

following is a shot of me working and then some stills from a handful of interviews i did.

at the end of the day, my stay at grootbos was still absolutely worth it for three reasons: the programs (and participants) are amazing, i ate and slept wonderfully, and i enjoyed my mini adventures.

. . . .

the four programs broke down to: green futures, growing futures, spaces for sport, and future trees.

green futures is an work and life skills education program that takes twelve unemployed local residents and pays them to go through their one-year institution, teaching them horticulture, landscaping, english, computer skills, and other life skills. half of every day is hands-on working, teaching practical skills and also using the work as a way to pay for the tuition of the school. for the six years it has been running, all seventy two graduates have found employment at the end of the program. many of the students go on to work or guide at grootbos, teaching and inspiring future students.

. . . .

growing futures is in its first year, and is based on the green futures model. it takes eight unemployed women from the local community and teaches them vegetables gardening, chicken and pig farming, and english, while also working on computer, life, and small business skills. while only in it’s first couple months, the women have learned a lot, and their vegetables are sold to the grootbos lodge and served to guests. any left-over organic food from the lodge also comes back to growing futures to be used as food for the pigs and compost materials for the plants. since the program is new, they have not hatched their own chicks, and only have chickens with their beaks half cut-off. soon, they hope to hatch their own chickens and have true free-range and fairly treated animals.

we were lucky enough to get the women to get together and sing some songs for us, and i will work on posting some of their music here soon.

. . . .

spaces for sport is an after-school program for youth of the local town, gansbaai. it takes children from all different racial groups within the town, breaking down racial stereotypes and giving children a way to interact not typically available before, and through soccer and other sports, teaches them about sportsmanship, teamwork, discipline, and english. before this program was started, the town’s soccer ‘pitch’ was basically a sand pit, and now they have the only fifa certified artificial pitch in southern africa and other practice fields. this is also the only opportunity that the children have access to professional coaches. many of the other coaches are volunteer students from around the world. it is an amazing youth program, not only by keeping the children off the streets in the afternoon and teaching them sport, but by teaching them other skills like english and about cultures.

. . . .

future trees was a program started after a devastating 2006 forest fire that burned much of the milkwood forest of the reserve, an entire one-year-old lodge of grootbos, as well as many other local flower farms. it left many people of the town jobless, caused eight months of guest-disturbance to grootbos, and destroyed large portions a a very fire-retardant forest. the milkwood plants are naturally strong against fire, but the sheer size of this fire killed many trees, some as old as 800 years or more. this program invites guest to buy a milkwood tree, plant it themselves, and gives them the gps coordinates to they will forever be able to locate it. it also employed many local residents in the early recovery effort.

all of these programs are on their way to being completely self-sufficient from the lodge, whether from donor contributions or money raised through the program itself (by selling the vegetables or labor to the lodge). it would be very hard to say whether the lodge is the focus of grootbos, or if it was purely the engine needed to fund the social and conservation work needed to be done for the community. either way, they have a great lodge and even better people to run it and their programs.

. . . .

as for my stay, i was stuck in this little shabby room all by myself. it was only good for the fact i could hide away by myself after a hard days work, make tea or coffee, and enjoy the view from my deck. i thought the heated towel-rack and bedroom carpeting was a little much, but it did keep my towels and toes warm. the bed was a little bit nicer than the one back a scarborough, and it felt good enough to get the couple of hours of sleep that i managed to get.

the meals were a world all themselves. not only did i have baked alaska for the first time in my life, i also had my first ten course meal and mini wine tasting at the same time. the food was all very good, but because of the serving style, everything was in little portions on big plates, and it took at least three hours to eat supper. we would show up for dinner at eight, and not finish until eleven or later. by the end of the trip, i was ready for a home-cooked meal, as well as doing some cooking myself. i haven’t cooked since i left the states, and i miss it.

. . . .

this was my faithful companion for my mini adventure the first night i was at grootbos. i left my cottage to wonder around the property to get familiar with the lodge, to find good places for photos of everything, and this cat started to stalk me. when he came close enough, i held him for a bit, missing girl back home in baltimore. he then led me around the trails of the property, always keeping a couple paces in front of me, and only parted from me when i went inside to eat.

my other adventures typically took place at night, wandering without my camera, just enjoying the night sky and being surrounded by nature. more adventures took place as i sat in bed with a cup of rooibos tea reading the alchemist, a gift from a good friend before i left.

. . . .

i am now back in scarborough, sorting out all the materials we collected at the lodge, preparing for more recording trips to great guides, and trying to get to know the local area better. the town is extremely small, so meeting people my age is tricky. there isn’t even a corner shop or cafe. the only real spot i can hang out at outside the house is the beach, full of surfers, dog owners, and families. as i get more grounded here, i hope to travel out to some bouldering spots nearby, visit a kite shop the next town over, and do some hiking and cycling around the cape of good hope.

cheers too having internet again.

hope all is well,