After Richard's Bay we took the kids to a backpackers lodge called Dave's Place located about 2 minutes outside of the Hluhluwe game reserve.  One of the leaders had stayed there many times and was good friends with the owner so he let us rent out the entire lodge for the night.

The kids had a blast. All of the girls stayed in a hostel-like cabin with 6 or so bunk beds and the boys stayed in little trailers that slept four or so each. It was a blast for me too cause I got to play soccer with a few of the boys, who are actually pretty darn good for their age. It was even better when I got some of the more shy or troubled boys to play with me. These kids come from all sorts of backgrounds that none of us can really understand. On top of that, they are living in an orphanage with no parental attention or guidance. It's so sad because these kids have SO much love to give. Whenever I see them, it doesn't matter how long it's been (five minutes or five hours) they're always running up to me giving me huge hugs and kisses. We found that with these so-called "difficult" boys, the best way to deal with them is with love and kindness. It sounds cheesy, but they responded so well to being appreciated and loved. Man I'm really gonna miss them.

After playing around for a couple hours, Dave made us all a killer chicken stew and we taught the kids how to make s'mores for dessert. They seriously went wild. I tried preparing the cookie/chocolate sandwiches before hand, but once they learned how to roast a marshmallow, I couldn't keep up. I swear some of them only kept their marshmallows in the fire for no more than 7 seconds before they came rushing up to me for the rest of the fixins. Later on that night after all of the kids had fallen asleep a couple of the guys and I stayed up for about a half hour playing the drums together. I'm talking Zulu tribal-type drums. One of the leaders is apparently a professional drummer and is all about feeling the beat in your heart etc and so it was kinda fun "jamming" with him. Definitely something I've never done before (and PS, I suck at drumming haha...but they were really nice and encouraged me the whole time).

The next day we drove the kids through Hluhluwe game reserve. We rented the hardcore safari trucks so that the kids could get the whole experience. We didn't get to see any lions or leopards but we did see a WHOLE lot of giraffe, rhino, elephant, zebra's and monkey. The kids thought it was really cool. After our little safari, we grabbed the taxi's and drove through the park on our way back to Nkandla. About halfway through the park the taxi in front of us stopped. After a few seconds we crept up to see why only to find that a couple of our kids climbed out of the van to pee! And it's not like they just went out the door. They straight up went 20 or so yards into the bushes!  I can tell you that we were FREAKING out. Our little babies could have been eaten so darn fast! We kept yelling out the window for them to come back but the taxi driver and other passengers just looked at us like we were crazy. Luckily no one got mauled by lions, so we continued on our way.

Once we got out of the park and nearer to civilization, we started running into dozens of buses full of topless young girls screaming out their windows. No joke. Each was dressed in traditional Zulu garb wearing only the traditional beads around her neck and waist. Apparently now is the time of year for the Zulu king to pick a wife. I need more clarification on this but apparently it's an annual event where thousands upon thousands of young girls travel to the King's house for one big party. One of our girls in our Velangaye group actually went as well. She said her mother takes her every year, because the girls also get checked to see if they are still virgins. Out here, if a man wants to marry a virgin, he has to pay the family of the girl more cows than if she wasn't a virgin. So after driving past handfuls of African version of Girls Gone Wild party buses, we finally made it back to Nkandla. Overall, I think it was a really great trip, not only for the kids but also for the volunteers.

I spend quite a bit of time at the center playing with the kids, but because there are so many of them, it's difficult to really get to know any of them individually. This weekend really allowed me to get close to many of the children and be able to have some sort of loving and positive impact on them. I was speaking with one of the sisters about the needs of the kids and some of their backgrounds, and some of the things she told me were so sad and disturbing. First of all, we talked about the impact that the volunteers have on the children. Every year a few volunteers come to Sizanani to help out at the center but naturally after a few months they always end up leaving to go home, and she pointed out the unfortunate negative impact that this has. These children all have abandonment issues and it must be so difficult for them to get close to volunteers only to have them leave over and over again. I guess it's a bit of a Catch 22. These kids need the love, attention, and guidance so badly. But do you deprive them of that to save them the possible resentment and abandonment they may feel? It really does break my heart to even think about it.

I recall one little boy who was particularly distant and seemed like he had a lot of anger at the beginning of our little weekend getaway. It took all day for us to really get him to even slightly open up and play with us (he really started to respond when I played soccer with him). We tried giving him special attention by letting him ride in our car and always giving him tons of hugs and kisses. Even still, while he did warm up to us, he remained very quite much of the time.

After getting home we asked one of the sisters about one of the stronger-willed little guys int he group. This is his story (the quick version). When he was fairly young, his mother died of AIDS at which point his father left them to be cared for by their another relative. Apparently, it is very common for widowed fathers to give up their children here. Their new caretaker, however, suffered from alcoholism and treated them very poorly. Also living with them was a cousin who was disabled. One day, this cousin fell into the fire (the mud huts have fires in them for heat) and burned the majority of her body. The caretaker never took her to the doctor, but instead wrapped the burns in plastic wrap. Eventually the cousin died from massive infections. At this point, the little boy and his sister were taken away to live with yet another relative. It turned out the relative was really only interested in the foster care grants that she would receive for taking them in, so she also treated them very poorly and completely neglected them.

One day, our little boy ran away, and walked alone for a full day until he reached the alcoholic relative's house, which he believed was better than being neglected. A while later, however, he learned that his sister was taken to the Sizanani Outreach Center, and he decided he wanted to join her, so he ran away again. He walked for hours in the middle of nowhere by himself towards Nkandla. Eventually a woman stopped and gave him five Rand to get some food or catch a taxi, but this strong-willed and determined little boy pocketed the money and kept walking. Thankfully, for who knows how long he would have lasted, another woman stopped and gave him a ride the rest of the way to the Center, where they welcomed him with open arms.

Apparently the name that I knew him by wasn't always his name. When he arrived at the center, he was known by a name that meant something like an old dingy worthless car. One day he told one of the sisters that he was sick of his name and wanted to change it, and so the Sisters got all of the workers and children together and made an announcement that they were no longer to call him by his old name, and if they did they would have some serious answering to do. It kills me to think of the life this poor boy has lived, and even now, his life living at an orphanage is far from ideal. I wish so badly I could help him more.

nkandla-newdogOn a completely different subject....We got ANOTHER puppy! Oh man, I am in heaven at the convent. The Sisters are in need of a new watchdog (theirs died a while back) and of course Sissy, the little white one, won't do the job so they got another one. This new puppy is black and white and looks like an Australian Shepherd. He's only 5 weeks and SO incredibly cute. The Zulu Sisters always look at me like I'm a crazy person every time I cuddle with the puppies. Out here, animals serve a very specific purpose, whether it is to be eaten, to catch mice, or to serve as a watchdog. They are NOT simply pets and so are not given the love and affection that is so normal for me to give. In fact, most people here are terrified of dogs and cats and usually for good reason. One of the Velangaye students I met has a huge scar that takes up half of his calf from being attacked by a dog. Obviously, since some of these animals aren't shown affection, they don't always give it either.