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Friday, 22 August 2014

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Things can only improve with love and compassion

North Cumbrian woman Jean James is spending a month in one of the most deprived communities on Earth - South Africa's Elgin Valley. The area suffers from high unemployment, extreme poverty, alcohol and drug abuse and HIV infection rates of up to 50 per cent. She's recording her experiences and thoughts here in a heart-rending blog...

Jean James photo
Jean James

Catch up with Jean James' first week in South Africa here

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 22...
Hi all. I will be back in good old England by the end of the week. Seems like months have gone by since I can remember life as I know it. I arrived here at the end of January.

When I think back to the first week and how I struggled with my emotions, I wanted to leave but also wanted to stay. I realised starting the blogs in the first week would be too negative or draining for the readers.

However I am now so grateful for the experiences I have had. I have witnessed unbelievable levels of tolerance from incredibly brave souls.

I think of Grace and wonder how she is braving her HIV illness. I also think of a young man I met who was suffering from AIDS and TB and the hug I gave him before I left which took longer than expected to deliver as his body was so thin under his clothes. Baby Sam and hundreds of other babies and children also fill my thoughts.

Will I look at life differently once back home? Most definitely. I will be more appreciative of everything in my life.

Do I wish I had spent the last few weeks in a five star hotel in the Caribbean? Most certainly not. I have learned so much and grown mentally and spiritually. I feel privileged for the opportunity to have worked here.

My twice daily sessions of transcendental meditation have supported me through this journey. They have allowed me to transcend from the chaos in my mind due to the suffering I have witnessed, I have been saved from myself and so then achieved a balance.

I think of how many people here never have the opportunity to leave their townships and are unable to view the beauty of their own country. Do we appreciate the beauty around us?

I look forward to the day when my grandchildren are old enough to build an African shack with me. What a lesson in resourcefulness and appreciation that will be, especially when we have slept the night in it.

Why did I come to Africa to do this work? I had a pull inside me that I felt had to address, maybe the "deja vu" experience I had in Irac was an explanation. I return home with more passion to fund-raise for The Thandi Friends Project. Here's hoping!

I leave you with some quotes:

  • "never say never" as my son said having told him of my deja vu moment.
  • "stop worrying and start living" as the notice said in the care manager's office at the care home I visited.
  • " love and compassion" my quote, if we meet every situation in our lives with love and compassion things can only improve.

Take care, appreciate and enjoy all that we have. Big hugs, Jean xx


TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 21...
Hi all. I think we need to ask ourselves some questions.

Imagine that you are a 24-year-old man in present day. You fall in love with a girl and wish to live with her and have children.

This means you have to marry her or you would disrespect her family - and you seriously would not wish to do that. You have a meeting with both families and an elder from the village to decide how much you have to pay for your future bride, this is called Lo bola (a dowry).

Depending on the wealth of her family, you may have to buy your future father-in-law some cows if he has space to hold cattle. If not you have to pay the equivalent in cash. A cow costs about £150. Let's say you buy 15 cows, so you need to save approximately £2,250 before you can get married. The Register Office will charge you about £20 for a marriage certificate.

If your girlfriend has had a child before meeting you, the Lo bola will be very much less. When you have children you will have to pay your father-in-law another sum of money if your wife provides you with a son but not if she gives birth to a girl.

How do we feel about that?

Some tribes dictate that if you take ill and die, your brother will take your wife. Sorry ladies you would have no say in the matter. As a husband you may also have up to four or five wives but remember you will also have to then provide for their families, too.

You work as a waiter six days a week. Your shifts start at 6am and end at either 6pm or the close of business, possibly 1am. You never have a weekend off and must cover shifts if your colleagues are off - so goodbye to your one day off. You have to get up at 4.45am to get your local transport, a mini-bus which only leaves your village once it becomes full. How frustrated and shattered are we now?

Your wages are 100 rand a day which equals £8.24, £197.76 a month. Now how badly done to do we feel?

You also have to provide money to your own family, which includes parents, grandparents, aunties or uncles. As a wage earner, this is your duty. I can imagine some of your comments now?

The staff I interviewed for these facts told me how this is their life and they are just so grateful to have a job which pays so well. The employer doesn't pay sickness or provide any food during the shifts but food, I'm told, has no importance.

What matters is work, home, sleep. Maybe a meal will be left for them to eat when they get home, possibly a stew made of porridge and vegetables. This would have to be eaten cold as there often isn't any electric at home. It's very dark at night, except for kerosene lamps or candles. Can you imagine this being you, or is it too far away from life as you know it?

Ladies, we can read this and apart from taking out the Lo bola, relate the rest to ourselves. One would hope to have some brothers to help but otherwise you are the main provider!

This is the reality here, these men and women accept their fate, they talk with pride that they have saved for years to hopefully marry one day and have no qualms about working so hard and giving their wages away. Would we be so accepting?

A care assistant receives about £280 a month, she will work from 6.30am to 7pm six days a week with one day off. Having worked five weeks she will receive a weekend off. Again, no wages are paid for sickness and no food is provided by employers.

I am reminded of the staff member who said to me "if we are dying we get an ambulance, if not we get on with it". Paracetamols and prescriptions are too expensive for most people living in the townships.

Gardeners and cleaners receive 100 rand a day, £8.24 and work from 8am to 4.30pm.

The manageress, a widow with a family, at our creche receives £40 a week for working five days a week from 6am to 6pm. One would wonder how it can be so difficult to raise funds in the UK for such a small amount but trust me it is.

Food here costs the same as at home which is why porridge, potatoes and maize is used to fill stomachs. The saying do we "Eat to Live" or "Live to Eat" springs to mind.

Enjoy, Jean xx
 

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 20...
Hi all. The Elvis Blue Concert at Paul Cluvers Vine Yard was brilliant, the whole evening was just great.

He reminded me of Bryan Adams with his style of singing and performance. The surroundings were perfect. The amphitheatre was in the middle of a beautiful forest; the trees around the stage and seating were at least 100 feet tall.

Afrikaners arrived carrying pillows, duvets, huge picnic boxes and portable tables. The event was very much family orientated. We were warned of the zebra roaming freely in the forest and to be careful when leaving in our cars.

I have visited Capetown, Bonnievale, Vanloveren Vine Yard and cruised down the Breede River from Vijloendrift, all in the space of two days. I spent this time with some swallows. The Afrikaans call people from the UK swallows as they fly over for six months of the year then fly back. A lovely group of people, what a pleasure.

As we travelled closer to Capetown I was interested to see how many young girls and boys risk their legs by trying to sell souvenirs, newspapers or fruit to cars which slow down at give ways. Some people see these kids as pests but I have a lot of respect for them. They are at least trying to make a living when others may sit or walk around with a begging bowl.

I'm reminded of a recent visit to a Swop Shop scheme in a township. This scheme works brilliantly. It started in 2003 with the idea that if children were to collect rubbish in their own area they could benefit. One thing these townships have is lots and lots of rubbish. I know, I've walked through piles of it. I'm afraid there aren't any wheelie bin services here.

The Swop Shop charity started in a township on the outskirts of Hermanus and due to its success has expanded throughout South Africa. Donations are made to the shop and children encouraged to collect rubbish and bring it along to the shop. It is then weighed and depending on the weight, a voucher is given to the child.

Vouchers range from a snack voucher or one which can be swapped for clothes, shoes, toys, school books, crayons, toiletries, or anything some kind person has donated. The child has the choice of goods to pick. Parents are not allowed to send a child back to pick something else.

The service is only for children, the age range begins as soon as a toddler can carry an empty milk bottle.

The refuse is collected from the Swop Shop by the local refuse company which pays the charity cash depending on the weight collected. Brilliant as that then buys more goods.

A volunteer told me that they are trying to break the thinking that charity is always there to give. By children creating their own treats they will have an entrepreneur mindset. I heard the story of a little boy who visited all the local drinking places to collect bottles. They were weighed in and created enough vouchers to buy his school uniform and books. Now that's an achievement.

"Reward For Effort" is the motto. Yet again I think how nothing goes to waste in Africa.

I also think how wonderful the staff at the creche in Lebanon (creche was provided by The Thandi Friends Project with whom I am working for here) are as they organised a village fun day. What a lot of work it was for the staff to generate interest around the area, not easy without press to support, no emails, phones or faxes available. Such dedication from three ladies wishing to create extra funds for the running of the creche. Very inspiring. It was a success and generated a few Rand, approximately 20 pounds sterling.

The townships along the main road to Capetown go on for miles and miles and are a few miles deep - unbelievable. I am told that a recent census was carried out here, what a task for someone when I think how the nurses and I got lost in Irac.

As I've said previously, most townships are without plumbing, so toileting facilities are the ground surrounding the shacks. This being the case people were visibly making use of the ground near the main road to use the toilet. Needs must I guess!

In Capetown I rode on a red sight seeing tour bus. These buses are great, having used them in York and San Diego. You can gain lots of local information. I was told about the first steam train arriving in Capetown from Scotland complete with a Scottish driver.

We then travelled around the heart of Capetown in the area called District Six. The area originally housed approximately 60.000 freed or runaway slaves. In 1949 apartheid banned any marriages to mixed races and in due course people were moved by force to leave the area, their homes. The intention was, or so they were told, to allow new buildings to take place. This sadly never took place. They were relocated miles away and then had to build new shacks. Now only grassy deserted ground and a few churches and mosques show the loss of a community.

I was also told that the reason for such wonderful colour in South Africa is that slaves were forced to wear drab colours, so once freed they created brightly coloured clothing and decorated their homes likewise.

I am amazed at the extreme difference between poverty and the affluent society here in South Africa. I would just wish for a perfect balance for all but this is the real world I'm afraid!

How lucky are we?

Take care, Jean xx


SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 18...

Hi all. I have found a hole in the wall!

As I have said before, I often wonder what happens to the babies that are unwanted by their mothers either due to extreme poverty, illness or inconvenience. Some as we know are left with professionals who manage the future of the child correctly but it's the others I worry about. I prefer not to think but am constantly drawn back to it.

I hear such scary stories of babies that are left in bushes with the hope of some good Samaritan passing by who will take the child and give it a loving home. Other stories where babies are simply given to couples or individuals wishing to adopt but who are unable to access the adoption systems. And, of course, there are stories which we all fear.

I now have new information which I have seen it for myself.

I had heard tales of a hole in the wall where babies could be left. The mind boggles, but I kept investigating until I found it.

The hole is situated in a township. It is built in to a wall down a very long lane which is lined with concrete panels covered along the tops with razored barbed wire. The ground is rough and full of rubbish. One would not wish to venture down this lane alone in the dark of night.

The small shed like building is brightly painted red and built flush into the wall. It is about two metres high, one metre deep and one metre wide. The top resembles a tiled pitched roof. The centre of the shed has a metal area about the size of a microwave with a handle for the door to be opened. When you open the door you are faced with something that resembles the inside of a microwave without a turntable - except the interior walls have lots of holes. You have guessed it - this is where babies are placed when they aren't wanted.

The reason behind The Hole In The Wall scheme is to encourage mothers to place their babies inside the metal box in complete confidence of not being recognised and with no consequences.

The facility is built onto another building which is manned by staff 24 hours a day. As soon as a baby is placed in the box an alarm advises staff to check the camera to identify the contents. The baby is then looked after by the staff and referrals are made to the appropriate services.

This, I was told, is better than a killing taking place. I assume she meant abortion which I hear is practiced frequently, under which conditions I dread to think. I wonder what state of mind a mother is in when she feels the only escape for her baby is to place it in a metal box for safety?

I am again grateful to The Thandi Friends Project where at least a mother in the village of Lebanon can access the creche and give her child an opportunity for learning and nourishment. Hopefully she may decide to support her child knowing she will receive assistance five days a week.

Talking about traditions... I missed an opportunity to meet with a local elder/witch doctor. He was right beside me one minute then gone in a flash the next! What did he look like? He wore a blue and white striped jacket from back in the seventies, blue tatty jeans, had bare feet, lots of facial piercings and was holding a small drum - one similar to those sold in Spain - a small drum on a stick with two tassels so that when you rub the handle in your hands the tassels hit the drum. You get the idea? Oh the questions I wanted to ask!

I have been told of tribal traditions where young teenage boys are turned into men. You seriously do not need to know the details except maybe the fact that a nurse told me often the boys can die of septicemia from a wound in a delicate area.

During a change over with care staff I was present while the staff were trained on how to provide the latest MMCI Project (male medical circumcisions). The advice was to inform men that the hospital was providing this service and it will reduce the transmission of HIV by 40-60 per cent. I wondered if I had picked this up incorrectly but no, the nurse confirmed it to me again. I decided not to question.

I was recently given a leaflet which offered the services of a gifted spiritual healer. From purchasing the Healer's Magic Stick claims were made to heal marriages, return lost loves, stop bad luck, protect homes, heal gonorrhea and vomiting, provide abortions (30 minutes with no pain), reduce male and female body parts (my words!) etc etc. Oh and free consultations for pensioners!

Take care, be happy, Jean xx
 

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 16...
Hi all. The creche in the village of Lebanon was provided by The Thandi Friends Project.

I have been out here working as a volunteer for the charity since the end of January. The creche provides a place of love, comfort, safety, education and nourishment for the babies and children up to the age of five who live in the village. While I have been here I have spent a lot of time working in different areas and have had the experience of seeing the different creches that are available.

The creche is streets ahead of all other creches I have visited. It still appears like a mirage to me in an area of extreme poverty. The outside of the building has been brightly pianted by volunteers and stands out as a place of happiness.

Some of the parents or carers are able to access work due to the facilities provided by the creche, which means food will be available for the family - although come May there are few jobs as the fruit picking season ends.

I compare this creche to some I have seen where there were no toys, babies were without nappies, the smell was awful, the children were filthy and I was unable to see any food apart from bread. These less supported creches offer no means of education and the children from walking stage only have the rough ground outside to play with the rocks and stray animals.

When visiting other creches I have yet to hear children singing, chatting or talking - they just plod about looking lost.

In comparison, the children at the creche in Lebanon can be heard singing nursery rthymes along with staff as I drive up unexpectedly. I am greeted with "hello granny Jean" from happy smily faces. One day I arrived to find everyone covered in green paint as they had been finger and toe painting.

The creche is equipped with toys to play with and educational toys for the children to learn reading and numbers, some in Afrikaans and also in English. Very impressive. The creche has achieved awards due to its high standards. There is hope that as these children learn to read and write, and gain confidence in themselves, there will be way out of poverty. History does not necessarily have to repeat itself.

The day I provided staff with an infection control course I asked for some plain white paper. Twice I was given paper with a drawing on! Looking puzzled I was shown how to turn the paper over. Stupid me, I'm in Africa, of course the paper is used both sides! How lovely it would be at home if we had "flip pictures" on our fridges made carefully by our little tots.

The other benefit of the creche is that it provides a morning and afternoon snack and a cooked meal at lunch time.

What happens to the children who are unable to attend the creche as it can only register 28 children? Sadly they live on the streets around the village, climb trees, run after my car amidst the orange sandy dust and play with stray dogs or whatever else they find interesting. Food is rarely available to these children so some visit a staff member's house at night hoping she will give them some, which of course she does.

Fridays are the last source of food for some of these children in the creche until Monday, so a meal including protein is given.

I couldn't understand all the upset when I visited one Monday morning, children crying and twiny. I was told that "it's Monday, they have been left without food and had late nights all weekend, they will settle tomorrow when they become more balanced."

As many people as 11 can sleep in one room so you can see how these little ones get disturbed sleep. At creche they all fall asleep after lunch without encouragement!

I am delighted to find my fear of snakes around the grassy areas of the creche and village removed! Due to it being summer here the grass is either non existent or too short for the snakes. How relieved am I. What we really need is a perimeter fence around the area of the creche to enable the children to play safely away from animals and stray dogs which foul the area. But sadly that takes money, which as a small charity we don't have.

I have spent the morning with Dr Paul Cluver, owner of Paul Cluver Wines. We discussed ideas for future fund-raising for the creche as money is low and as yet we have been unable to fund a sustainable feeding programme like the one provided by the Killington WI afternoon group which supports the local school near the creche.

We also need funding for salaries for the three paid members of staff who live in the village and run the creche with such expertise. As I said previously, the charity has funded NVF courses in nursery teaching for the staff and I have seen how proud they are of their course work.

Volunteers in England works religiously to raise the funds needed each month; it takes approximately £800 each month in total to cover all costs.

Dr Cluver has suggested we organise a concert with a famous artist. He will allow us use of the Forest Amphitheatre on his private estate at reduced costs which has seating for 600 people. He has invited me as a guest to a concert with artist Elvis Blue on Saturday night. All I have to do now is find an artist to provide a concert in aid of Thandi Friends Project.

One may ask why I support a creche which has such wonderful opportunities rather than one with very little? The answer lies on the streets. Without funding, the children of Lebanon will be as disadvantaged as all the others. We must continue.

Positive thinking, Jean xx
 

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 15...
Hi all, As I walked into one of the hospices here I saw from the corner of my eye a dog basket on the floor. It was the soft quilted kind which I use on the front seat of my car for my little dog to sit on.

Very little shocks me so I think nothing of a dog having a blanket over it asleep, until I get closer and realise the dog is actually a baby. Still I'm not shocked compared to some of the places I've seen babies sleeping. I still haven't seen a pram, pushchair or cot as we know it since arriving here.

I'm going to call this gorgeous baby Sam.

Sam has the most perfect beautiful face and tight curly jet black hair. I assume he is only about 4-6 months old, he is all wrapped up in a blanket and sleeping soundly.

His mother is an alcoholic suffering from AIDS. At birth she realised she would be unable to look after her baby boy due to her addiction, so gave him to a nurse. She pleaded with the nurse to take care of her baby for the rest of his life. The nurse saw this as a message from the Lord and accepted her duty knowing the Lord would assist her.

How difficult it must have been for this young girl who loved her new baby but was realistic enough to understand her addiction and the short period of life she had left. But how amazingly brave of the nurse to have such a strong faith and accept. Could we do the same?

Baby Sam cried constantly for the first six weeks of his life. He was unable to feed properly and his little life was at risk of being a short one. He was born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and HIV. His crying was a symptom of his alcohol withdrawal.

As I said, Sam looked to be about 4-6 months old - but he was actually 20 months old.

He has serious health problems. His head looked perfect until I saw him awake and could see that the back of his head protruded outwards. His legs are very thin and turn outwards, he is blind and nurses fear he is also deaf because he has not yet shown any signs of being able to hear. He hasn't attempted to hold his bottle and does not react when rattles are shaken near his face. He makes no other noise except to cry.

I think of the difficulties this little boy is going to have to suffer? Walking will be an impossibility without corrective surgery. Will it be available? Communicating on any level will be a challenge. Everything in life will be hard for this gorgeous little lad.

I once read a book about how as souls we choose our next life. It explained that the reason for this is we choose a life where we can learn from every experience then we will move on spiritually to enable us to become enlightened beings in future lives.

Many religious beliefs also feel that it's how we live this life that affects our next life. The old saying springs to mind "you get back whatever you give out."

Was I looking at a soul who had so much to learn that he had been born with such horrendous challenges in front of him? In my mind I was witness to a strong courageous soul for whom I have unlimited respect, love and compassion. There but for the grace of God go I.

Since coming to Africa I think constantly about my grandchildren and those of my friends and how their lives look so glowy and privileged. How loved and protected they are by having loving attentive families. I also think how we feel as mothers and grandmothers with every little ear infection or bruise. Women here have to be accepting, brave and adaptable to take care of such poorly children. I truly admire their courage under extreme circumstances.

However, I gain some comfort from the fact that baby Sam now has a loving, caring adoptive mummy who adores him. She will provide him with unlimited hugs and cuddles and will move heaven and earth to protect him.

Drugs and alcohol cause awful health problems for unborn babies and this is seriously on the increase here, so I'm told. What happens to babies born with similar health problems as Sam to poorly mothers who give birth in their shack? I prefer not to go there - I can't bear the thought.

Lots of hugs, Jean xx
 

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 14...
Hi all. What next? I started my day being detained by an attractive policeman carrying a gun!

The alarm went off in the house where I am staying - through no fault of my own may I add.

Just as the golden girls left the house this morning the alarm sounded. They didn't hear it and drove off.

Before I knew it the police were here! So many questions were asked and he would not leave my side until I managed to locate them and gain the code!

The Baby Bounty Bags provided by The Thandi Friends Project have been delivered to the nurses. Many thanks to all who donated the bags, cash and products, including babygros. The bags are given to pregnant mums to encourage them to make links with their local hospitals.

The difficulty I have found is that it isn't easy to bring products over to South Africa and as yet we are unable to find someone here who could purchase products and safely deliver the completed bags to the nurses. Having approached potential providers of products I am told by shop managers "everyone here supports a charity and if we give to you all we will have nothing left to sell."

As always we find cash donations the easiest way to support babies and children desperately in need here.

New mums here are not offered the same services we are privileged to have. There aren't any anti-natal classes so mums to be enter labour with little or no knowledge of what they should expect Hopefully, she will give birth in the hospital rather than in a shack.

I'm told at least 44 babies are born here every month. Now bearing in mind this hospital closes at five, that means a dedicated nurse will have to stay back to help a women in labour.

The new mother, who could be a very young teenager, will have four hours to rest before she has to leave carrying her newborn baby. Trust me there won't be a lift arranged to take her home and she will walk as far as she has to before reaching home. Once home I'm told she has no follow up services caring for her and the baby. How would we cope?

I witnessed a baby just two minutes old. She had complications and looked quite blue. Her mother looked across at me with a look of fear on her face, fear of the unknown. She was so young. The hospital hasn't got any specialist medical services, only a radiographer who visits one morning a week.

The staff are made up of 85 per cent nurses and 15 per cent doctors. The nurses have a huge responsibility to diagnose and treat.

My first thoughts when entering this particular hospital was the number of people. I had to squeeze my way through to the area I needed to be in. The smell was awful and the air was hot and heavy. Numerous women were naturally breast feeding, there are no luxuries such as muslin squares to maintain privacy and dignity here.

As usual the HIV, AIDS and TB clinic was overcrowded. Would Grace come here, bless her? Three nurses see 74 patients a day. Until just recently these patients sat in the same waiting room as everyone else but as I said previously, they now sit outside. This so saddens me.

Drug and alcohol abuse create awful problems and often unwanted babies. The commonly used drug talked about with all the people I am meeting is Tik. Used by addicts, Tik consists of rat poison and other chemicals. Users are addicted first use so I'm told. The drug then causes intense mental health problems as it eats away inside the body. There has been a huge increase in crime and violence.

As we know in every country not only Africa, there are unwanted babies born which the governments have to provide support for but I feel we must not forget the babies who are planned from loving couples who then sadly may die due to AIDS or other related illnesses.

These babies add to the statistic provided of approximately 2.5 million orphaned AIDS babies here. Some babies are planned by couples who knowingly already have HIV but the advances in medical research now mean these babies can be born without the virus due to drugs the women take throughout the pregnancy and even during labour. Who are we to judge whether such babies should be born to loving parents?

Tomorrow I must tell you about baby Sam!

Lots of love, Jean xx
 

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 13...
On Saturday I went with friends to the Paarl Valley. It was beautiful, such amazing views.

The Paarl Valley was claimed by the Huguenots at the end of the 16th Century. They had to leave France as they were Protestants and the country was being ruled by Catholics. The Huguenots were mainly wine producers and found the Paarl Valley to be the most perfect place as it sits in the valley so the vines would be protected by the surrounding mountains.

They escaped to gain religious freedom. In the town of Franschhoek there is an amazing monument of a woman with the Bible in her right hand and a broken chain in her left which symbolises the freedom of religion. The Fleur-de-lis on her dress attests to nobility of spirit and character.

It was at this time that the French began to marry the South African locals already situated in nearby areas. I was interested to see how very French the monument was and also how the French theme is reflected throughout the valley rather than the African.

The shops were very retro, classy and at the same time had a touch of the Lake District about them.

I came across the School Gospel Choir singing in the street. Oh how these children could sing and dance in time to their music.

We stopped to enjoy a lovely lunch at the Boshendal Winery, the views were fantastic. Wineries were situated at every turn as we drove around the valley. I wonder how many wineries there are in South Africa? I pass so many as I drive to work, Oak Valley, Rivendell, Paul Cluver, Barton to name a few - and I haven't done any wine testing yet!

On the way to Franschhoek we passed an area of beach which apparently was used as a film set for the film Waterworld. I took film and shots and know just the right man back home to tell me if it's a correct fact or not!

We visited Stellenbosch on the way home. Again a winery on every bend, lovely, but I prefer Franschhoek. I would love to stay there for a few days some time.

Sunday I went for an adventure all alone. I had decided to travel to Cape Agulhas, the most southern tip of Africa. I left early morning excited and raring to go.

On the way I saw a baboon, a huge daddy one strolling across the road ahead of me. A dream come true! He was a lovely, browny grey in colour and moved as if he didn't have a care in the world.

At this point common sense and all the advice I had received such as "do not leave your car if you see a baboon" left me! I parked up and shot across the road, camera and recorder in my hands desperate to get some shots and film. Trouble was he was so huge that his stroll on all fours was covering ground faster than I could move to get some good shots. Next thing he went into some tall bushes. What a pain! Try as I might I could not encourage him to come out for a photo.

The roads here are great, really smooth surface and not too much traffic. There aren't many traffic lights (robots as the locals call them). Instead they have a big red Stop sign and a thick white line across the road. At this point people must stop and, for example, if at a crossroads the first person to get to their white line can move on, then others according to when they reached their line. Works perfectly really, no traffic jams.

We also have traffic advisors who put their lives at risk by waving a flag to either advise drivers a road has closed or that road works are ahead. They are more often than not young boys or girls who earn about six pounds a day.

Speed police I won't say hide but tend to place themselves where the driver is unable to see them. If you are caught speeding you don't get pulled over but receive a fine on your credit card. When I first heard this I had an "aha" moment." This is why I couldn't pay for my hire car with my debit card! Anyone who has a car here must have a current credit card. Fingers crossed!

The roads are very long and quite straight, I love driving here until the road becomes a dirt track which happened to me on my way to Cape Agulhas. I had reached a place called Gansbaai, which for all I knew could have been Gambia. The only sign post I saw was to Die Dam - cute place name! Maybe the name was a sign to turn around quickly.

At this point I hadn't seen any cars or people for at least an hour. Having looked at my map I realised that if I continued on along the dirt track I could easily reduce my journey by half. I was a bit worried that the main roads were in bright red on the map and the coast roads pale grey. Having driven a few yards in second gear I went for a walk to see if I could see round a bend. In front of me was the most beautiful deep sandy beach, obviously a very pale grey road this one.

The other problem with these straight roads that go on for ever is that there aren't any side roads to choose from. The road literally takes you from A to B.

If I drove back for about 45 minutes I guessed I'd meet a junction. I tend to travel in minutes rather than miles. Brilliant, perfect timing, back at the junction, some 67 kilometres was about 45 minutes. Hey, female logic, can't beat it!

No problem, I had all day to get to my destination but what lovely sights I'd have missed if I hadn't got lost! I saw gospel singers in their bright red or royal blue flowing gowns with white trims and matching hats. I also saw local ladies in bonnets with pretty gathered dresses and men in smart suits with shirts and ties, all carrying bibles and with a long walk ahead of them to their church.

I stopped at a farm stall in Napier for a coffee and morning snack. It was like going back in time, very old country farming style, so relaxing. I loved it. Having looked at the menu which offered whale tail, creamed kidneys, blackpan or barnyard eggs, unadventurous me settled for a cream scone.

I also saw ostriches along the way and a sign for Pearly Beach. Must go there one day.

I make it all the way to Cape Agulhas, a 433 kilometre round trip. How chuffed am I, elated actually! At this most southerly point of Africa, the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic Ocean. The sea was a lovely turquoise colour but very rough, the weather cool and extremely windy.

Took loads of photos and film before sitting to enjoy the whole experience.

On the way home I called into Arniston to meet friends I have made since arriving here. The intention was to go body boarding - but what a shame the sea was too rough.

I enjoyed the weekend seeing the beauty of Africa rather than the suffering.

Enjoy, Jean xx

Have your say

I'm sure you'll hold the Overberg in your heart for a while. It's such a special place. Thanks for visiting

Posted by Vanessa Alberts on 28 February 2012 at 11:00

Thanks for your beautiful example of global care and responsibility. You might be interested in visiting the Maharishi Institute in Johannesburg (www.maharishiinstitute.org) that helps low income students prepare for higher education while developing their inner creativity and intelligence.

Posted by Chris on 23 February 2012 at 21:18

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