We kept a short daily diary while in Durban this year. Here are our experiences, thoughts and photos of our time in South Africa.
Thursday 24th July and Friday 25th July 2014
We planned to all travel to Glasgow in Jude’s van; however with a broken exhaust we faced our first challenge of the trip. Family and friends stepped in and we all reached the airport in time. Jude spent the rest of the journey looking to use a ferry to complete her varied modes of transport. Although the check in and flights were long they went without major incidents and gave us insights into the challenges of long haul air travel, transfers etc. which will be very useful in the future.
We were met by our driver, Ntuthuko, and our third travel pal, Lucky, at King Shaka International Airport.The van we hired from QuadPara Association of South Africa (QASA) was brilliant, a real find. We checked into Blue Waters Hotel on North Beach, a very happy but tired team looking forward to our first night’s sleep in South Africa.
Saturday 26th July 2014.
Our first volunteering experience… a trip to Illovo…to the Tree of Empowerment, where the organization Operation Bobbi Bear meets on Saturday mornings. They support children that have been abused. Saturdays are about fun and food, a chance to escape and be children again. We had a quick chance to play with the kids before we helped hand out their lunch and juice.
After a rest back at the hotel and a bowl of chips it was off to Jean’s daughter’s pre-21st birthday braai at Tekweni Backpackers…a lively start to our adventure.
Sunday 27th July 2014
A thirty-minute van ride takes us to Umlazi, a township of 2.9 million people. We visited Jean’s friend, Zinhle and her family. Lucky then introduced us to his partner, his in-laws and his beautiful baby daughter who we all got to cuddle.
There is something strangely beautiful about the rolling hills and variety of buildings in this township… washing hangs drying in the wind and children play in the street. Yes there is crime and poverty but there is also joy and an unbridled hospitality which we experienced today. Some of the team went to mass after which we had dinner at Spur in Suncoast.
Monday 28th July 2014
Another day… another township. KwaMashu is 20 miles from Durban with high rates of poverty and HIV AIDS. Soiezwe, is run by a Gogo (Grandmother), she looks after nineteen orphans in her own home. It’s at this point we find out that Beth crossed a boundary yesterday by holding her first baby and today her life was changed as she discovered that she loves babies. Mnguni Crèche is a larger operation; unfortunately, we arrived when the children were having a nap so no games here, just time to talk about the problems they are having with growing vegetables.
We had our first taste of the popular township snack, Gwinya (a fried doughnut ball halved and stuffed with cheese and polony) not exactly healthy but very tasty. The day was rounded off with a meal to celebrate Jean’s daughter’s 21st at Cape Town Fish Market.
Tuesday 29th July 2014
7.45 am and we are the entrance to Dloko High School in Umlazi. The singing is already filtering through the entrance to the quad…a taste of the amazing voices we are to hear later. The choir will leave on Saturday to sing in the Edinburgh Festival. After songs from the choir, the whole school and the Scathamiya group, a few words from the teachers and Jean, we went to the classrooms. Conversations ranged from Scottish history to politics to the economics of the UK and uses for text to voice software. Beth and Jude gave a presentation on the Edinburgh Festival to the choir.
As Lucky said being a group of black/ white and disabled people visiting a township school we had made history. If our presence changed opinions and made people question their assumptions then we have achieved our goal. The afternoon was spent trying to blog using the intermittent Wi-Fi at the hotel. After an early dinner at the local Indian restaurant we went to bed with the singing of the Dloko learners ringing in our ears.
Wednesday 30th July 2014
This was meant to be a day of chilling, planning and organisation. Emails sent, phone calls made and updates posted we headed out to find a solution to the accessibility problem we had in the bathroom. Serendipitously, on leaving the hotel, we met Ari Seirlis the CEO of QuadPara Association of South Africa, who had helped us get transport, yet again he advised us on where to buy the necessary equipment.
CE Mobility was exceptionally helpful and has been added to our essential contacts list. The afternoon was spent at the African Art Centre and at Mugg and Bean coffee shop in Suncoast with Sanele. We were joined by Sinegugu and Ntokozo, who are both professional artists and give us a private rendition of the Click Song and the Kiss Song. Dinner was at the Europa in the trendy and buzzing Florida Road.
Thursday 31st July 2014
At 9.30am we met Pat from Angels of Mercy Care Centre at the gates to Wentworth Hospital. This organisation offers support and counselling to pregnant women, new mums and to those who have lost their babies. Today we helped distribute their weekly gift bags. Every day they visit the wards to chat and congratulate the Mums and pray with them if they wish, they may be the first visitors the Mum’s get as many families are unable to visit. Recently they have started to visit the sick kids’ wards to help alleviate the boredom associated with being in hospital. Pat gave us some homework… to come up with simple ideas that will help pass the time for the kids and Mums while they wait to go home.
On our way home we made a quick trip to Workshop, a shopping center (used predominately by Africans and Indians) created in the 1860s workshop for Durban station. Pizza in the hotel rounded off another stimulating day.
Friday 1st August 2014
Little did we know by the end of the day we would have challenged so many personal boundaries and made dreams come true for the whole team? Today, thanks to Rocky, Alan and their team at the Learn 2 Surf School, Jude was able to go on a beach and experience the waves crashing over her as she swam in the Indian Ocean and Agata and Beth surfed. Agata’s smile as she rode the waves and Beth discovering her inner surfer brought Jean to tears of joy (not for the first or last time).
A quick shower, and it was off to pick up Mark at the airport. Finally, our team is complete and we could catch up over a wonderful Portuguese meal at the Neo café before preparing for tomorrow.
Saturday 2nd August 2014
Today was our second and very busy trip to Operation Bobbi Bear. Some of us made kites from plastic bags and straws while others made loom band bracelets. Both were great successes, especially the kites as the kids can make these at home with little or no cost. We were sad to learn that the CEO, Jackie Branfield, was still unwell and we wish her a speedy recovery.
Once the kids had had their lunch we headed back into Durban to buy ours at the supermarket after which we yet again fought with the hotel Wi-Fi and spent some time reflecting on how the trip was going. What we hoped would happen was happening… we were being seen as a team volunteering, enjoying the culture and each other’s company. Of course there were initial looks and searching questions but this curiosity quickly changed into an exuberant willingness to be involved and a sometimes refreshingly irreverent camaraderie. In the evening we went to Daruma, a sushi restaurant, on the Parade, excellent food but slow service.
Sunday 3rd August 2014
I don’t think any of us realized when we were invited by Mah Makathini to the Old Apostolic Church social that it was quite as big a deal as it turned out to be. We were led to the front of the hall, which held around 1000 people, passing a sea of women dressed in white with an array of hats to match and rows of immaculately suited men. After a mass baptism one of the pastors asked us all to say a few words to the congregation. Thank goodness there is no video of our faces.
We were given gift wrapped sweets by the Bishop’s wife and treated to typical township hospitality, a lovely lunch of curried chicken, steamed bread, pap and beetroot. We stayed longer than we planned. We were very conscious of next few days being busy so we had a Nando’s carry out in the hotel while we planned tomorrow’s presentation.
Monday 4th August 2014
First stop the QASA demonstration, at the 2014 International Architecture Conference. The protest sought to challenge and change the way architects consider accessibility and to deliver a Memorandum of Understanding to two prominent architects. After providing the appropriate responses (Amandla – ‘power’: awethu – ‘to us’ and Viva) we had to dash off as we had a presentation to give to grade 12 learners at Open Air School.
The school was founded in 1921 for physically disabled learners. We were given a tour and visited the new braille unit before Jude, Mark and Agata gave an inspirational talk…and it certainly was. Mark then joined a physical education class, who were learning shot put. The visit raised questions as to the advantages and disadvantages of mainstream, inclusive education and whether provision of equipment and health and safety regulations isolates or makes disabled people more independent.
Home for a quick rest then off again into Umlazi to soak up the traditional township culture (and tons of meat) at Max’s lifestyle.
Tuesday 5th August 2014
The team decided that as it was Jean’s birthday she should choose the day’s agenda. Her choice proved to be one of the highlights of our trip. The Inanda Heritage Route is the home to two iconic moments in recent world history. It is the birthplace of Mahatma Ghandi’s movement of passive-resistance and the place where Nelson Mandela cast his first democratic vote. At the Phoenix Settlement we met and were filmed with Ghandi’s granddaughter, Ela. After telling her about Crossing Countries she said she was honoured to meet us and what we were doing was amazing. There ensued a discussion as to who was more honoured!!
In awe and reeling from this meeting we went on to the Inanda Ohlange Institute, founded by the ANC’s first president and where Mandela cast his first democratic vote. A late lunch at KZNSA Gallery, an earth tremor in Durban, and a surprise party braai at Tekweni rounded of a particularly memorable birthday.
Wednesday 6th August 2014
We returned to the two crèches in KwaMashu so that Mark could play with the kids and chat to the helpers. First stop Soiezwe to deliver more nappies and supplies donated by the Jabulani Project and to share Jean’s birthday cake with Gogo and the children; then on to Mnguni Creche for Jean to explain composting to Blessing and the gardener.
Mark (much to his delight) was introduced to Gwinya. We returned to the hotel to pick up Jude and do our ‘tourist’ holiday shopping at Victoria Market – an African/ Indian market full of bargains and scented by spices. On to Musgrave Shopping Centre for a wander and a hot chocolate with enormous muffins, then back to the hotel for our final meal together in the Havana Grill at Suncoast.
Thursday 7th and Friday 8th August 2014.
Philani, the Head Boy at Dloko joined us today. We hope he will work with us on our next trip. Greg Jacobson, Retail Manager at uShaka Marine World organized a sensory experience at the Aquarium, which was followed by the team’s first Bunny Chow – a traditional Durban lunch, and then it was off to the airport.
We always knew that travelling with 10 pieces of luggage/ equipment, including a electric wheelchair, would be a challenge but…three hours at check in, baggage handlers trying to fit the electric wheelchair through the security scanner and its appearance at disembarkation in Dubai and Glasgow prompted us to consider printing t-shirts for the next trip saying ‘Yes they’re dry cells batteries, Yes they’re disconnected and taped up…That means …it doesn’t work and its heavy!!’ Last off the plane and further delays in the baggage hall meant we left Glasgow Airport, 3 hours after we landed. Back in Edinburgh …our adventure over …what was dream …that became a reality …yet again felt like a dream…it will take some time to realize we did something quite astounding.