Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sala kahle Thanda

Three months... The time flew by WAY too fast. I do not know how to describe or explain these extraordinary months. I could say it was like a dream or I could say it was epic. Nothing really captures the intensity of my experience and my emotions. All I know for sure is that I truly do not want to leave this magical place. I know it is time to move on and start another chapter of my life. And I also know that I will return to Africa again and again and again for the rest of my life.

Thursday was my last night and the game drive was absolutely amazing. We came across two male giraffes fighting for dominance. They were swinging their long necks at each other, hitting each other with their skulls and horns. I had seen this before, but it’s a rare sight and very exciting to watch.

Just before the sun set, we met up with the rest of the volunteers and staff at one of the highest peaks. This was my sixth and last sundowner on this trip, and it was absolutely gorgeous. The sun was setting behind one of the mountains and the sky was constantly changing colors, from baby blue to pinkish to purplish. Finally the sky was dark blue with a few bright stars coming out and an amazingly pinkish moon rising on the other side. I was feeling emotional, enjoying the views and thinking about how much I love this place. I renewed my vow to return.

On my last morning drive, I got lucky and saw my favorite of all animal – the rhinos. For some reasons, I have always enjoyed seeing rhinos, both individuals and as a group or crash. Even when they were being boring, just eating or standing around staring at us, I felt overwhelmed by their powerful, prehistoric look. That morning, I couldn’t help wondering whether this would be the last time I would see a rhino. Poaching is still a great danger and these magnificent animals are in danger of becoming extinct. I hope we will win the war against poachers and that the rhinos will be in less danger the next time I come to Africa.

After the morning drive, I decided to do the elephant interaction. I did this on my first visit, and this time was even better. After observing elephants so often in the wild, it was incredibly awe-inspiring to see these animals up close and simply stand beside them. I got to touch the same elephants I touched last year and I could see that the calf had grown a little bigger. I took my time, soaking it all in, feeding them, petting them, touching their trunks, and even talking to them. Their strength and presence made me feel more grounded, and it was a wonderful way to end my time on the Thanda game reserve.

Leaving was almost impossible. It was very hard to pack up everything. This has been my home for three months and I have come to love it very much. It was especially hard to say good-bye to the kitchen and housekeeping staff. Every single day, we made small talk or jokes together. They heard about when I fell on my butt trying the Zulu dance and have always teases me about it. When I was saying goodbye to the staff, they started clapping and doing the Zulu dance. I joined them and this time I was actually pretty good at it! ( I have been practicing!) This made it even harder to say goodbye to some of the friendlies people I have ever gotten to know. 

Saying goodbye to the land itself was also very sad. As we were packing the van with our luggage, I took one last look around, and it hit me hard that I was really leaving this place. I have watched the land turn from green to golden, and I have loved every single thing about it. I may have lived here for only three months, but Thanda feels like home in the most powerful sense of the word.

I will miss seeing the animals. This time, I got to know some of them as unique individuals with their own habits and temperaments. When I came last year, both lion prides were growing and had sub-adults cubs. This time, I got to see how much those cubs have grown. And now there are new cubs. It makes me sad to think I won't see them grow up. I have witnessed so much about how the lions and other animals live--mating, fighting, eating, drinking. As we drove away, I kept thinking about everything that has happened in the past three months, and I started to cry because I know I won't see this beautiful magical reserve for a long time.

In three months, I have met and gotten to know at least 30 volunteers from different countries as well as many local friends. I have shared laughs with many of them. Some of the people I've met have been incredibly inspiring, teaching me a lot about life and giving me ideas about what I can do when I return back to America. I'm truly lucky to have met so many extraordinary people. The experiences I've had here were more meaningful because they were shared with such wonderful people.

The African Impact team at Thanda has been absolutely incredible. On this trip, I have gotten to know them well, and every single member has made a huge impact on me and touched my heart. I am so proud of what they are doing and what they will be doing for the rest of the year. I feel truly humble and honored to have had them be part of my life for three months. Through them, I have learned so much more about myself, the type of person I am, the good and the bad. They have given me love and even tough love. I will always appreciate everything they have done for me.

I am genuinely sad to leave this amazing place which feels like my home, and the wonderful staff who have become my family. I will always have the last three months in my heart.

Sala kahle Thanda, South Africa, Africa
Thank you for allowing me to return and volunteer for three amazing months.
Thank you for the dedicated AI team members who taught me so much.
Thank you for all the fellow volunteers and the good times we have shared.
Thank you for many great experiences seeing the unique, wild animals that belong to this land.
Thank you for helping me learn so much more about who I am and what I want.
I shall return again and again and again.
This is not goodbye.
This is farewell. I WILL see you again.
With love from a heart that is overflowing.

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