Our Manyeleti Adventure

As we headed out of Kruger Park we were not disappointed with the animal sightings, especially the elephants. It started with a large bull elephant headed straight for us in the middle of the road. He knew he was king of the road and I did too. Here is Lauren’s account of the episode…

When we left for the next camp this morning, we weren’t expecting much more than we had seen on previous drives, but of course when you assume, well, you know. The first continental beast we saw was a gigantic elephant (yes, we have seen plenty of them, but this one was different). It was walking gracefully towards our van and half of the girls were in fear for their lives. They were so afraid that the elephant would get mad and stomp us to the bitter end, and it wasn’t out of the question, but it was unlikely because we weren’t antagonizing it in any way. The beast walked RIGHT past the van, and that was exactly what we came here to see. It was the closest I had ever seen a wild animal, and the sight was really something incredible. As we started picking up speed, another car raced past us, heading towards elephant, and when a few of us looked back, they had come upon the elephant so fast that what everyone had feared would happen to us, was almost inevitable to happen to them. The idiots had infuriated the poor guy, and he swung his trunk with sheer force into the rear end of their car. The girls in the van screamed bloody murder. We honestly believed the elephant would have destroyed that car, and in truth they brought it on themselves. The elephant surprisingly and humbly turned around and walked away, almost as if it was trying to avoid confrontation, although it could have crushed the two passengers in the car. It was pure luck that he didn’t.

As we left the park we came across a pond that had about 50 elephants enjoying a swim. We noticed two bull elephant fighting for dominance, one bull kept pushing the other one back into the pond. Eventually a cow came forward and the two of them got into the pond and got some carnal knowledge of each other. You can imagine the comments in a van full of teenagers.

We were ready for the luxury tent camp that Marinda, the Mpulanga tourism official, had set up for us. Our minds were all wrapped around sitting in the lap of luxury that Lou and I have experienced in the past. Marinda had told us we would be dining at a five star resort and we were READY.

When we got to the Manelyeti gate Shalpos, our guide, was waiting for us. The kids were as excited as a four year old on Christmas Eve, you could have cut the excitement with a knife. We were instructing the kids how to act and to be on their best manners as we pulled up to the lodge.

When the kids realized where they were staying the excitement went like the air out a balloon that got hit with a hot poker, we realized our five star resort looked more like a prison yard. Slowly the reality set in that Marinda had not set us up in a five star resort but a government compound with small bungalows. Needless to say I had ten very upset kids and three shell shocked leaders on my hands.

We tried to improve the atmosphere by going on a night game drive, they loaded us up in an old truck and drove us around with no spot lights and it was freezing cold, not an animal in sight not even a spring hare. The mood was not getting any better but the kids were taking it great. Shalpos was feeling like a failure because he did not know the promises that Marinda had made. The kids took their lemons in stride and put some smiles on their faces. Dinner was served, not in a five star meal, but by some ladies from the community prepared our dinner and it was delicious, so the mood started to change.

This morning we loaded up for a day in the community. After about an hour on bumpy, dirty, dusty roads we had a van full of very unhappy campers but as we pulled up to our first stop Askia yelled out in the van to put their happy faces on.

We stepped in to a small school room that had about fifteen disabled students sitting on the floor. You could tell all of them suffered from different maladies, retardation, autism, encephalitis but they were all thrilled to see us. You could feel the mood start to lift as our heart went out to these kids, like putting an air hose on a flat tire.

The smiles on these kids’ faces could have made the sun rise. One of them got up and wanted to sing us a song and he gave a beautiful solo performance. Lynne sat and hugged one of the children who was obviously suffering from sever autism. When we got up to leave he wouldn’t let her go. As we walked out to the van the little boy ran out of the school house to grab his new friend and she had to carry him back once again.

Our next stop was a home full of women who were cooking lunch for a group of Australians. The invited us in to see the lunch they had prepared and I noticed one of the dishes included Mopani worms. I asked if it would be okay if the kids tasted the dish and then asked if there were any takers. To my surprise about half the group stepped forward and had their first taste of cooked worms. It was hilarious to see some of the run for the van gagging.

Next we headed to the Salamani Primary school. As we pulled up we were greeted like rock stars. Every classroom had kids with their faces pressed against the windows. We were lead to a field where they had set up chairs and a PA system, around the corner came the kids dressed in traditional garb and for the next hour we were entertained and our hearts were stolen.

The dancing and song were something to behold. When they were finished our Globetrotters did their step dance and the visit was finished with our kids dancing with the whole school. You would have been so proud of your children. Madelyn came up to me and said, “Thank you were would have never experienced this at a five star resort.”

But the day was far from over, next stop was the local high school. We were lead into a classroom where our kids mixed with the students where they welcomed us and told us a bit about their school and then Adelaine stood up and read this poem in remembrance of all the children from the school who have died of AIDS…

Praise to education

Damn you!

You were conceived to perpetuate privileges,

You are the instrument of oppression.

The children that die, die because of you

And you are to blame for all their failures.

You are the cause of poverty.

You should be the threat to power, but you disturb no one.

Because you make the young become old.

Teaching is subversive

But teachers lack weapons.

Oh education….!

If you were to do what you have to do you would be killed

But don’t wait!

And within womb of every mother let the revolution begin.

It can be done!

The democratization of science

The democratization of science for the democratization of intelligence

The right to be intelligent

The revolution of intelligence.

 Afterwards we were taken to the home economics class where they fed us sandwiches, potatoes and chicken’s feet, followed by more dancing with the students and a rousing game of girl’s net ball, kind of like basketball but there is no dribbling, no backboard and no net. Minesha was a warrior under the “net” and Madelyn and Lou were our top scorers. Whenever we scored a goal the whole school went out on the field and cheered our girls.  

We finished the night with a deep and meaningful discussion with the kids that none of us will ever forget.Wow Wow Wow, what a day! What began as a depressing downer turned into one of the most rewarding and cultural experiences I have ever had. Here is Lauren’s account of the day…

 When we first arrived at the camp, it was obviously disappointing, but the events that followed were something of much more value than a luxury camp could have ever provided. The community that we visited reamed with happiness. It had an aura around it as a whole that nearly made you feel as if you were at home. We first visited a school for special education where we met children who had obvious physical and mental disabilities. The looks on their bright and shining faces were enough to move mountains. We sang together which united us and then we showed them our step dance. They were ecstatic. When our time was over, we went to another school, Salamani Primary, for a traditional African dance program where all of the children dressed in traditional garb. Some of the children were so young, yet so talented. After the program everyone danced together as a union, and we was nearly impossible to get away, for so many of them wanted us to stay. But we had to leave, and then we arrived at a high school called Sokisi Secondary School. This is where we had lunch—lettuce and cheese sandwiches, cooked veggies, chicken feet, and porridge. As we all finished, we joined a rather large group of students outside who were basically having a dance off. Everyone was hooting and hollering as each person did their dance. Some of our people started dancing with them, and it ended up being one of the most entertaining experiences in my life. We also did the electric slide, and some of the Africans joined us (they are very fast learners). After a while it was time for us to play net ball. None of us knew what in the world the rules were rather iffy. It was 7 against 7, all girls. They ripped us to shreds, and eventually started letting us win points because they felt sorry. I can see why, we were terrible. But it was all in good fun, so the points didn’t matter, it was the fact that we all played as a team, and afterwards everybody were such good sports, hugging and congratulating everyone else. We all took a group picture with the girls and it was sad when we had to leave. If we had ended up going to the luxury camp, none of this would have been possible and we would have never been able to gain this amazing experience.