(20 juli tot en met 23 augustus)
New place, different experiences
Once I arrived at the airport of Johannesburg, the sun had already set. Just a few percent battery left on my phone. Yet I still had to download the address which was in my mail. After quite a search for working WiFi, I for once had some luck when it comes to my phone. With literally 1% left, I was able to write it down on paper. Now just to get there.
After a ±45 minute ride with a cab I finally got to my new place for the coming five weeks. – I know I said four in previous blogs, but I found out it were actually 5.. – Hanneke, the lady I was going to work ‘for’ and Ben, a second volunteer from Germany welcomed me when I arrived at the house. First I had to go through an automatic gate, which leads up to a second gate that has to be opened by hand. Before the second gate, on the right was a small garden and the part of the house that belongs to the sister of Hanneke. Beyond the second gate, is a driveway for the car with on the right another door with a pathway leading to the main area. On the left of the driveway I would later find the biggest part of the garden with plants all around and in the former swimming pool and beyond that a little, cozy house that was empty at that moment. At the main area was where we could relax and make use of the kitchen. Where I was going to sleep was to the left of it, close to the campfire spot. I slept inside a sort shed with its own little area closed off by a fence. As I got to the main area, I also got welcomed by all the dogs. I say dogs, but only three out of the five are actually dogs, the two others are wolves. Yes, wolves! 😀 Awesome animals, although they do have a bit of an authority issue. Especially around food. The three dogs aren’t really too fond of people besides Hanneke, most likely due to a trauma when they were young. Koda, one of the wolves, is very shy in the first few weeks and will keep her distance. But once she gets close she is really sweet. Then Jarna, the second wolf, is both affectionate and naughty.
When I got inside of the house it was cozy: the lights turned off and candles lit instead. This was not on purpose though, the whole block had problems with load shedding, which would last for my first three days and come back a few times during my stay. For who is not familiar with load shedding, there is limited power in SA, so sometimes the power of a part of a town gets cut off. When this happens it is called load shedding. In Jeffrey’s Bay I had experienced it before, but there it would only be for an hour and everyone knew exactly when it would be cut off. Anyways, I spent a few hours getting to know Ben and Hanneke before going to bed. Ben apparently rode his bicycle all the way from North-Africa to South-Africa, which I respect him for. I will definitely do similar kind of trips in the future, as the world is too big, diverse and beautiful to miss out on all the places by going by airplane. And Hanneke, moved at a young age with the family from the Netherlands (which meant we could communicate in Dutch) and has set up her own place teaching people to make more use of mother nature, giving to the poor and opening the minds of the volunteers. She herself makes besides the garden use of the greenhouse – that used to be a swimming pool – and dumpster diving. Dumpster diving (getting the food out of dumpsters that supermarkets throw out so they can sell the best for more profit, but which is still edible) has led to many filled stomachs. These stomachs can be volunteers, family, friends or struggling strangers.
So much food…
Before coming here I had already a suspicion of what I’d be doing, which was gardening. But in the end, that’s only a small part of what I had done. Hanneke took Ben and me to go dumpster diving already on the 2nd day, at least, I believe it was the 2nd. We went to the grocery store Hanneke has an agreement with that she and any volunteers can come pick up the food that will be thrown away that day, as long as she doesn’t make profit of the food. Such as by selling it. Thanks to her, the food doesn’t go to waste but is used to feed the hungry and make various jams, marmalades and many more. Even when the food goes bad, it’s used for the compost. Most of the people that throw the food away have been kind and would let us have a look and take what we wanted before just throwing it in. I am certain that it’s mostly because they don’t want it to go to waste either. The dumpster diving really was mind opening, to see SO much food getting thrown away… Seriously a lot! We had days that we could fill a bakkie three times!! Imagine if all the supermarkets would work together to get this food to the poor. I guess there just isn’t enough profit in it…
During these weeks Ben and I kept questioning this as we were stunned on how much food goes to waste. In the end I came to the conclusion that I can’t blame the grocery store. If all supermarkets have fresh products daily, you will have to compete if you want to stay in business. Besides, we were allowed to grab the products and use them for better use, which is a start. Yet Ben and I weren’t pleased and we kept trying to think of the things these stores could do instead. But every time there was a
logical reason behind it why they didn’t. That’s probably because an answer to a problem this big, can’t be this simple when there are still too many companies seeking for maximal profit and everyone has to keep competing. But then as I was carrying the dozens of crates with food to the car, I realised I was doing it wrong. I was looking at the big picture, yet at that exact moment I was part of what Hanneke has set up. Thanks to Hanneke there are a lot of people that go home with a smile. Whether if it is the group of people from the townships, the gardener that will feed his family, or a hungry man on the side of the street, thanks to Hanneke they have an extra reason to keep smiling. I also do know that with every year, with every volunteer that has had the honour to work with Hanneke, this idea will keep expanding and more people will try to seek a way to help out in any way possible.
Then when we got back with all this food, we would start sorting everything. If we had a lot of easy fruit, such as apples or bananas, not pineapples, we had to wash them and count how many good ones we have. This so we could take the edible fruit with us to the Soup Kitchen which is on friday. I liked the work we did, as it was never to sure what we would be doing each day. If we had planned a day of gardening for instance, we would then have an enormous badge of food – 200+ pineapples and another shitload of vegetables. Then we spent the day cleaning, cutting and/or cooking all this food instead. And the food really is edible, the pineapples as an example, were just too small compared to the top notch pineapples. Then on friday’s we also get a large amount of bread and pastries. On the same day we go hand out the food we have, which later on actually includes soup thanks to Ben, to people from townships. When we got at the usual spot, there stood a huge line of men waiting. We then started handing out, one or a few pieces to each person. After receiving something they go back to the end of the line. This would continue until everything was gone.
My trip to Soweto
In the the second week, there were two changes: A lady, Genevieve, moved into the little place next to the swimming pool and a third volunteer arrived. Genevieve is a good addition to Hanneke, always cheery and a wine lover as well. Jonas, the volunteer is a frequent visitor from Soweto, where he wants to apply the gathered knowledge on agriculture. Together we spent a lot of time in the garden when there was no help needed with the food brought back from the dumpster diving. Ben usually was busy with cooking, as he can get really creative with the food. Then there is also a gardener two days in the week, Omar. He does his part in the garden and guided us with the stuff we had to do. I’d be doing things like shifting the compost and then later in the week adding some of it to the plants.
In the first weekend of August, I had been invited to come spend a day in Soweto with Jonas. It sounded great, so I accepted his offer. The ride there was confusing for me. We went there with ‘buses’ – they were more like vans – almost always fully filled up. They drive without a time schedule and stop wherever someone is waiting for a ride. That wasn’t too weird though, but this is where it got really confusing for me: I hadn’t paid yet. I assumed it would be afterwards then, until I saw people handing money to each other. Apparently you pay during the trip by asking the one in front of you to hand your money to the driver, who then gives the change back while driving.. 😀 Coming from the Netherlands, where we use stupid cards, it caught me off guard. Although it was strange and new, I enjoyed this way better than the timed buses back home. The drivers were also less.. cranky than back home. When I got to the town, I soon realised I was the only white man in Soweto. It apparently gave me a few benefits. For instance people coming up to me for a conversation and offering me a drink. The people were very friendly! I had a great time, but sadly: ‘What happened in Soweto, stays in Soweto’. I can tell you that I got to try some really delicious local food while I was in Soweto, such as Kota. It was very tasty! Of course I have tried more local food during my stay in SA, including biltong, pap and boerewors. I remember I also really wanted to taste something else, but I backed out when I understood that there could be a chance the guy will give me a goat’s head when not explained clearly…
On 6 August, I was given a lift by Robert, a delivery guy for Hanneke to the hotel I’d be staying at the night before the tour starts. My Kruger Park tour experience will be in the last blog of South-Africa.
After an incredibly awesome tour, I returned for my last two weeks at Hanneke’s. They themselves had just gotten back from Happy Toes, a place that also takes volunteers. Janine from Happy Toes would later on come delight us with her presence. While I was gone, the sister of Hanneke had left to go on her own vacation where she was going to climb a mountain. The place wasn’t empty though. Glenn, the guitar-playing hippy, who I had met before was staying there for these weeks through CouchSurfing. CouchSurfing is a site where you can find people who offer their homes for people to crash for usually a short while. Some end up staying a year instead of a day though. Netanya slept there as well, but just for a few days. Netanya is usually with her hands deep in the dirt playing with the plants. It was nice to get to catch up with the both of them.
In this same week Jonas and I were asked to help out Michelle, a partner and good friend of Hanneke. – She is actually the one that drives the bakkie. She does get a bit crazy behind the wheel though.. 😝- This again proves that the work for the day is never certain. Instead of shifting, we were dragging wood and collecting Jasmine flowers. After helping out, we met her daughter Tanhil. She invited me to a small party where I met two other awesome lads, Nick and Malcolm. They are all laid-back people who enjoy to occasionally relax, when not too busy with the daily jobs.
In the last week, there was less work done, as Hanneke was gone for a few days. Jonas too, had gone back to Soweto. Therefor we spent a lot of time at Michelle’s. With ‘we’ I mean Ben, Glenn, Genevieve, Janine, her son and I. It was always fun there, as people were often around. One of the days I really enjoyed was when Michelle drove us – same as the ‘we’ before – to a farm with crafts, food and activities. It was awesome. We were there around begin noon. A guy, an acquaintance, played country music with two other guys. Hot weather, sitting at a farm and the sun slowly setting in the background. It are times like these when I enjoy country the most. When it was time to leave, we couldn’t return using the bakkie again, as Michelle had left early. It was all good though, because Janine had asked a friend if he could drive us back. Only after the night digressed though, he realised ‘us’ was seven people. 🙈 This meant that we were stuffed in the back of the car on our way back.. Nonetheless it was an awesome day!
Then my last days had arrived, which kind of made me sad.. My last day was spent well though! I got to say goodbye to most and had an enjoyably night with my friends! As I had to leave for the airport early in the morning the next day, I got a few hours of sleep. Especially since I can barely sleep while in an airplane. I was given a ride to the airport by my friend Glenn where I was facing a 34 hour journey back home. Which could have been a lot better – But I will get to that later, WTC! – Despite the annoying stuff such as this air company, problems with payments, theft and a cancellation, a lot of good things have happened as well. South-Africa had been an unforgettable experience. I have done – in my opinion – big things like petting a cheetah, visiting the Kruger park or hiking up the Table Mountain. I have done smaller things such as playing crappy games, trying unknown food, listening to the guitar, dumpster diving, having rememorable conversations and laughing at stupid stuff. Every single one of these memories are what made my trip awesome and will be treasured. Hopefully I will keep getting more of these memories whilst travelling all over the world. I will definitely go back to South-Africa to revisit and explore the rest. When that time finally comes, I want it to be a trip to whole Africa, not just South-Africa. Yet now I had to say goodbye to SA. It had been 2 awesome months! Thank you everyone!