I’ve come to realise that South Africa is a country of contrasts, high mountains against endless seas, wild elephants next to humble mice and of course the class divide.
This week we visited a local orphanage in Malane, just a twenty minute drive from the game reserve. We arrived to be confronted with what is the reality for a lot of locals, hand-built wooden shacks and small one room bricked houses with no electricity or running water. Whilst it was intriguing to see somewhere so apart from our own homes it was also painful to stare inequality in the face. We met with Michael (not Jackson) who was from the community and now helped run the orphanage which helps provide food, shelter and education to the children of the village who have lost their parents, many to diseases caused by their living conditions. He showed us the facilities provided for the children, climbing frames and a computer room that allows them to learn and live like children deserve.
After the tour we interacted with the children (who had been anxiously waiting) exchanging languages, playing games and giving gifts like bubble machines, books, chocolate and bouncy balls- which resulted in a Christmas-esque environment. It was a pleasure bringing joy and entertainment to the children who have never been away from their small village, so were fascinated by descriptions of England and the presence of foreigners. They were also very eager to share their own culture, showing us their ways of greeting and teaching me the Swazi for animals, which came in handy for our visit to Kruger. After visiting it became clear that they are full with curiosity and for our community project we are now planning to create a mural full of Swazi to English translations and give English lessons to the children in an attempt to help them fulfill their desire to learn.
Leaving the orphanage was hard but we are eager to return and I am satisfied knowing that a part of me ( my sunglasses and lip balm ) are still residing there. The rest of the week was spent doing anti-poaching walks, we found over fifty snares this week, two of which had already caught an animal. Whilst upsetting they are incredibly important and a good way to contribute to protecting the animals from poachers.
On Thursday we went to Kruger Nation park to play hide and seek- as the 2 million hectares make finding animals fairly difficult. We were prepared for long periods of driving with a view of nothing but grass but were shortly surprised when a heard of elephants greeted us past the gates. It was an amazing day where we managed to tick 4/5 of the big 5 off our list- seeing the buffalo, rhino, elephant and lions throughout the day. The lions were our most difficult to spot as they sleep in the day, often in remote areas of the reserve far away from the paths However, our eagle-eyed guide was soon to spot them on the opposite river bank. Thankfully, I had brought binoculars which gave me an up close view of the pride and the male lion who’s main was sprawled around his face.
Tomorrow we plan to set off for a two-night camp in Kruger with the mission of spotting the cheetah, leopard and wild dog, the most illusive animals on the reserve. Whether we succeed or not I’m sure it will be a brilliant experience.