Saturday, 4 January 2014

Hanging out with AFL South Africa

In December last year I spent two awesome weeks with the lovely guys at AFL South Africa. This was in fact the second time that I’d had the pleasure of working with Phindi, July and all the others, where in October 2012 I spent a week helping the umpires during their National Championships. As an umpire in Melbourne, I've been exposed to a lot of umpiring coaching, training and AFL football, so I believe I have a lot to offer all the umpires and players in South Africa. That’s why I decided to come back and further impart my knowledge onto these AFL lovers that are hungry to know more and gain more experience of the game.

My aims while I was in South Africa were to develop a more substantial manual for umpires and coaches to access any time they want, as well as a training handbook so the umpires could fine tune their skills and keep the practice going. Unfortunately umpiring in South Africa is not high on the list of priorities, and it’s been like that in Melbourne too. The players are the ones who usually receive much more training than umpires and have a few more opportunities to better themselves. Unluckily, umpires seem to get left behind and are often an after-thought. But this is changing, in Melbourne and in South Africa.  AFL South Africa are committed to giving umpires the proper resources and coaching that is needed to be great umpires. I guess letting me help out is proof of this. 

On one of my final days working with AFL SA, I was lucky enough to travel to the big smoke of Johannesburg to run a day-long session all about umpiring to the umpires and players of the North West and Gauteng provinces. It was incredible to see familiar faces that I’d met at the Nationals in 2012, and to witness their passion and enthusiasm for an Australian sport continuing to grow. All of the umpires and players there were so eager to learn and better their knowledge of the game that it was hard to end the workshop.

Throughout the day, we went through the manual and training booklets that I had created. This was everything from the rules of AFL to the roles of each of the umpires, knowing how to get the best out of yourself as an umpire and much more. Everyone had lots of questions to ask, particularly the players about decisions that had gone against them during past games. I was happy to assist and help them understand how an umpire may have reached his/her decision. After a bit of explaining and reassurance, the players soon realised just how important the umpires are to the game. Without them the game wouldn’t and couldn’t be played. Sometimes this is forgotten by the players, however I made sure they understood that respect for umpires, and for others players is crucial to the success of an AFL game.

The main dilemma with umpiring in South Africa is there aren’t many places where you can learn and see professional umpires doing their thing. Not everyone has access to cable TV to be able to watch the one game that’s shown per weekend. Nor does everyone have internet to see highlights of past games. Nevertheless, it’s truly amazing how much these umpires and players have picked up along the way without much proper training. After the theory segment of our workshop, we headed outside for some real training where everyone had a chance to show off their new found umpiring skills. Whistles were blown loudly, voices were clear and signals were strong, even the boundary throws-in were great. Umpires were being developed right in front of my eyes and it was wonderful.

Unfortunately after five enthralling hours, the workshop had to come to a close. However, I know that everyone learnt something new, be it where a boundary umpire stands at the start of the match, how to signal a deliberate out of bounds, or how working as a team as umpires is so important. Everyone took something out of the day, and hopefully they can take it onto the footy field as well, whether as an umpire and a player.

A big thank you to the team at AFL South Africa for putting their trust in me and allowing me the opportunity to give back to the game I love so much, and to teach people that are so eager to learn. I can’t wait for August 2014 when the South African Lions come to Melbourne for the International Cup. Hopefully they’ll have a few talented umpires in tow.  

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Chilling with the Hawks in South Africa

Lovely friends,

Here's an article I wrote for AFL South Africa and can be found on their website, or read it right here!
AFL Premiers Hawthorn fly into South Africa 
In a very special event for AFL South Africa, AFL Premiership team Hawthorn invited South African Lions players and umpires to visit them during their 12-day preseason training camp in Rustenberg, South Africa. 
Benji being interviewed for HawksTV

In conditions more like a winter’s day in Melbourne, rain did not deter the Hawthorn team as they were put through their paces in an intense 2-hour training session. With the likes of Luke Hodge, Cyril Rioli, Jarryd Roughead and Josh Gibson all present, Lions players were able to see just how hard these professionals train and what it takes to be premiership players.

The Hawks boys and AFL South Africa unite.

Even after arriving in South Africa only two days ago, there was no rest for Hawthorn as they got straight into kicking drills, skill drills and running exercises. The team was then split into three different groups of midfield, forward and defence. The Lions players gathered around the forward group, wanting to catch a glimpse of Rioli with his silky skills and Roughead with his accurate left foot. The fact that Buddy Franklin was missing didn’t even register as the Hawks players present were impressive enough. 

The wet weather and cold winds didn’t stop the Lions players from getting involved in their own training too. Watching the Hawthorn players inspired them to put on their own footy gear and have a kick to kick with each other, as well as copying the running drills that the AFL stars were completing. It’s safe to say, just watching a professional AFL team train gave the SA players lots to work with as they continue to get better as a team. 

Just chilling with Hodgey.
Following the training session, Lions players were able to get photos with their favourite stars (as did I too) as well as even have a kick with some of them. Cyril Rioli and Luke Hodge were definite favourites, and even veteran Shaun Burgoyne had his followers. AFL South Africa was then presented with a 2013 Premiership jumper signed by all the Hawthorn players.
A gift from Hawthorn to AFL South Africa
Hippo and Hodge with the jumper.
In what was an extremely invaluable experience for everyone involved, AFL South Africa would like to thank the Hawthorn Football Club for their hospitality in allowing us into their sanctum for the day. It was an experience that will stay with the Lions players for many years to come, and motivate them to hopefully play AFL in Australia one day.  We wish Hawthorn the best of luck for the rest of their stay in South Africa and for season 2014.      

Monday, 19 November 2012

Here's what I say.

It's hard to believe that a little over four months ago I was driving back from Somers, coming home from the most wonderful, exhausting,eye-opening week of my life, then 36 hours later I was on a plane to Johannesburg, South Africa.

I really had no idea what to expect, nor did I have much time to really comprehend that I wouldbe gone for 6 months, in a foreign country, away from everything that was familiar and comfortable to me. Although I was quietly a little bit nervous togo to a country I'd never been to and live with people I didn't know, I was also really excited to see how I'd cope in a situation like that.

I would consider myself a relatively independent person, where I don't really need torely on other people to do things for me and am always happy to go out there an experience life. But until now, I had never really experienced independent living. Now was my chance to experience it! This meant Mum no longer cooked forme or cleaned my clothes (yes, I still live at home).

I'm not the world's most renown cook, and many times I have told myself and others that I can not cook. So one thing that I was quite scared of was knowing what to cook for myself and for the three lovely ladies that I lived with.Fortunately I began to master spag bol, learned how to cook rice (sortof), developed a wonderful technique of (s)mashing potatoes with a spatula,making the yummiest sandwiches ever (they are my new specialty), cookingeggs at least 3 times a week, saute-ing mushrooms in butter and notpoisoning my room mates once! At least they never told me whether they felt sick after one of my dinners.

So a tick to cooking! 

Next was washing for myself. This one I wasn't so worried about because the washing machines that are used at uni are industrial, so you literally put your clothes in with some washing power, insert the coins and boom, your clothes are being washed! Easy peasy. The downside of washing your clothes at uni was thatyes you had to pay for it. R10 each time you wanted to wash..which is just overa dollar. Ok, now that I've written it down, R10 doesn't seem too much..but thehard part was finding the right coins to put in the machine. They had to be the new R5 coins, and you needed two of them. There was a lot of dealing R5 coins around campus, old ones for new ones. Fortunately as time went on, we all built up a stockpile of coins, no more dealing coins was needed. 

Washing was successfully done!

Next was the scary but exciting thought of meeting new people. This was probably my biggest fear about living overseas for 6 months, not really knowing anyone,forming new friendships and getting to know pretty much complete strangers. Iwas lucky enough to live with some great girls. Sophie, Emma and Gaelle.Although two of them were aussies, I didn't really know Sophie or Emma. We hadall met twice before, at meeting for exchange. But none of us really go to knoweach other in these meetings. The only thing I knew was that they were bothreally nice. Positive number one. For the first two weeks I didn't really seeGaelle. She and her Mum were travelling around Joburg and South Africa, so Ididn't really know her properly or talk to her properly until a month or sointo the exchange. Recently Gaelle informed me that she was in fact avoiding talking to me early on because she was scared to make a mistake in English.She's French, from a little island off Madagascar called Reunion. Pretty cool to live on an island near Madagascar! 

But never fear, after a little while Gaelle's confidence in English skyrocketed and from there we became friends. Our house soon turned from being occupied by four individuals to four friends/roomies, then into the house that became everyone's hang out area...and I mean everyone's.

There were also other exchange students that I met, got to know and now call them friends. There was Marion from France who's an old soul. She's only 19,but has the maturity and thinking of someone much older. We were able to have some great conversations about anything and everything. And she was always up for a kick of the rugby ball or the footy! Marion lived with Rachel, who is from Australia and was great at baking us lemon coconut slices as well as choc-mint slices. So yummy!

Then there were the aussie boys, Susant, Oli, Tom and Owen. Get them alltogether, along with Matt the America and crazy stuff would happen! Susant is a character who had about a thousand nickname including Shoesant, Suzy Q, Suz, MrQ, Q, Susan Tray to name a few. I'm taking credit for Suzy Q, even if he thinks it was Matt who made it up! Susant is also the speediest person I've ever seen.No one could ever catch him in touch rugby. Oli is a lovely gentleman who made me tea, and made us girls dinner when he ate our food, or when he didn't. Thatlast dinner was so delicious Oli (and Soph, soo yum!).

Tom is a jumping jack, both literally and metaphorically! I've never seensomeone jump as high as him, nor someone be a lively as him, all the time. He certainly kept us entertained whenever we were bored, and was always upfor a banter with anyone. Owen was quiet to begin with, but came out of hisshell as we all became more comfortable with everyone else. He was always up for a kick of the rugby ball and wanted to eat every animal he saw, including giraffes! Then we had Falvey, Matt the American. Nicknamed the Teddy Bear by Gaelle, Matt was certainly a big bear, with a big heart. He also had the great ability to kill every ball that he kicked. Whether it be into the African deathtree with thorns the size of small babies or into 'orbit', Matt had a knack of popping nearly all the balls we had..Susant also had a hand in this too! Then there was Hilmi from Malaysia, a quiet but hilarious guy who was a bit late for everything we ever did, but also was good in the kitchen.

That was our exchange group, and what an amazing group of people they were and are.
So in a matter of a couple of weeks my fear of meeting no new friends wasconquered and I instantly had 11 new friends. Score!

This was both a good and bad thing. It meant that I had lovely friends, but italso meant that I didn't necessarily make as much effort as I should have tomeet completely new people that were exchange students. I'm not regretful atall for forming the friendships that I have with all the exchange kids, just a little regretful that I didn't make as many Uni friends as I would have hoped. 

Nevertheless, I was extremely fortunate to be involved in AFL South Africawhere I was also to meet some incredible, inspiring, high achieving andpositive people that I really hope will be my friends for many many years tocome, if distance doesn't get in the way. But I'll try my best to make sure it doesn't! Being involved in the AFL has really been a highlight of my time here,and I think I wouldn't have felt I fully benefited from being here if I hadn't been involved. I was able to see more of South Africa than the walls of Monash,meet more people than the students and talk with people of all ages about footy, politics, South Africa, and anything else that came up. I'm not sure if you can tell from the huge blogs that I wrote about AFL in SA, but I reallyreally enjoyed working with them and certainly hope that I can come back and help out, and hopefully some of the people I met can come to Australia! (Phindiand July, you better come next year or I will cry!)

As I sit here in David's work in Rwanda, I come to realise something that I know but perhaps haven't thought about enough. 

I'm pretty damn lucky. 

I'm 21 years old (although the other day I almost said I was 19, time reallyflies) and I've seen so many amazing things, been to so many wonderful places and have met so many amazing people in my short life so far. All this would nothave been possible if it weren't for the amazing family I am lucky to be borninto, even if I was a mistake :). My parents have always given me incredible opportunities to see the world and experience life to the fullest. Whether itbe PNG with my Dad, India with school, exchange in France and now South Africa/Africa, Mum and Dad have always encouraged me to see the world. They have never stopped me from doing what I wanted to do, even if where I want to go is a bit dangerous, namely India and South Africa. My sisters and brother have always been there for me, encouraging and supporting me in all that I do. Always there for a skype chat if I need it, or a viber catch up if it's been a little while between drinks. Plus, they have let me stay with them whenever I would like,right now with David, in Rwanda. Or hanging with Rachel when she lived in AliceSprings.

Without the influence of my family I wouldn't have been able to make such awesome friends from all over the world and definitely wouldn't have to able toexperience what I have experienced to so far in life. 

Being in South Africa, way from everything that I know and am familiar with, Ihave come to realise what amazing friends I have. Friends that challenge me,inspire me, encourage me, miss me, motivate me, are there to talk to, to laughat, and to just be me with. I have missed my friends back in Melbourne probably more than I realise and am looking forward to be able to keep developing the wonderful friendships I have. I'm also pretty pumped to keep in contact andfurther develop the friendships that I have made here. 

Being here has also made me discover things about myself that are not my finestqualities and also get to know myself better. If I learnt anything from MAX, itwas to take time to think about you and what you want to achieve in life. It'snot a selfish act, but an extremely important one, that prevents you from justcruising along in life without direction, passion and hope. This is something that I've tried to work on, but still need to do more of. But we'll get there,life is all about learning!

I still don't know exactly what I want to do in my life, and I do sometimesworry that I'll never know, but maybe this isn't such a bad thing. Maybe life isn't about having one stringent plan that we follow, but many different plansthat intersect, cross-over, zig-zag in and out of our lives, whether they bestructured or not.      

Life is about exploring, learning and experiencing everything there is in theworld; the people, the places and all that's in between. 

I'd say I've had my fair share of learning and experience here in South Africa,but I know that I have a lot more to learn about not only myself and the worldaround me, both at home and abroad.   

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

A week in the life of AFL in South Africa

AFL in South Africa: Part 2

After having such an awesome experience umpiring AFL in Cape Town for just one day, I jumped at the opportunity to spend a whole week watching and umpiring AFL for the National Championships, being held in Potchefstroom earlier this month.

When I was asked whether I would be able to help at the 5-day footy carnival I said yes straight away. Then I remembered that I attend Uni and the carnival was on during Uni, but my answer still remained a yes. Life experiences are better than sitting in lectures, I’d say.

So off I went, on the bus with the Gauteng team to a town known as Potchefstroom, or Potch for short, which is about a 2-hour drive from Joburg. On the way we had to stop at the airport to pick up the other teams coming from outside of Joburg, such as Cape Town. Some of the Cape Town people remembered me from my first AFL experience and it was awesome to see them again. Then onward we drove to Potch.

Our first day of the week was more about setting up the carnival, meeting people and figuring out how the week was going to run rather than playing games. I had the pleasure of finally meeting in person the people who run AFL South Africa such as Phindi and July, who were as lovely as the sounded in emails and phone calls! Once everything and everyone was settled it was time to get to work.

I didn’t exactly know what my job would entail for the next 5 days but I was open to lending as many hands as they needed, and it seemed like they needed a few hands, most of all umpiring hands. Because the AFL is relatively new in South Africa (just over 10 years old), a lot of that time has been spent building the players and focussing on teaching them how to play the game. This means that unfortunately the umpires have been neglected. That’s not criticism to AFL South Africa; it’s just how the game seems to be run, where the players are seen to be a little more important than the umpires. This even happens at home. One day they may learn they can’t have a game without us, we’ll get there.

So, my job was to coach about 11 umpires for the week, teaching them the ins and outs of umpiring. In other words, I had to try and explain my 6 years of umpiring knowledge and experience in about 3 days, then watch and help them umpire for the rest. But before I could do this I had to know who the people were that I was teaching and coaching. So I gathered all the umpires into a little lecture theatre in the offices of the AFL, where for the next few days I would try and teach them a bit of what I knew about umpiring. All up we had about 11 umpires from all over South Africa, ranging from Gauteng (Joburg) to Western Cape (Cape Town) to North West (north-west of Joburg) and KwaZulu-Natal (Durban). There was a real mix of people with varying degrees of experience in umpiring. Some had been doing it for 5 years, some only one month. We had Cleo, Thandie and Unathi from Western Cape, Stoli, Patricia and Lulu from North West, Brigitte, Lerato and Thembi from Gauteng and Siya and Zamo from KwaZulu-Natal. Out of all of them I only knew Cleo and Lerato from the game in Cape Town, so I had many faces and names to learn.

I asked all the umpires three questions when I first met them. What was their name? Where were they from? Why did they do umpiring? When I ask them why they wanted to umpire all the umpires were so surprised that I would ask such a question. For them umpiring was so logical. If they loved the game and wanted to get involved then umpiring was a great opinion, and for the 9 girls that we had, umpiring was their only options. I didn’t really get the answer I was looking for in that question, as to why someone in South Africa would want to umpire AFL footy, but I guess that’s the beauty of the game. Why should there be a reason? Shouldn’t the reason be why not? Why not give a totally new sport a go and see how it goes? (And I think some of the girls had boyfriends or hopeful boyfriends playing, another reason to join...)

Game on! 

The umpires, what a lovely bunch of people :)
Once I had met all the umpires, it was time to become the teacher. I won’t bore you with the specifics, but for umpires reading this blog I spoke to them about positioning, positioning from a throw-in, from a behind, and in general play as well as signals, how to deal with aggressive players and what to do when a fight breaks out. A big concern from umpires is how the players treat them. There is not really the culture that there is in Australia that although you may disagree with the umpire, you can’t really change their mind. The players in South Africa, it seems, think that if they shout loud enough at an umpire, or give them a death stare then the free kick will go their way. Nah uh my friend, that’s not how it works. One umpire was telling me that she even cried because a player was so aggressive towards her. It’s sad that it happens, and I know it can happen in Australia too, but you just don’t want to hear those kinds of things.

My coaching became a little bit difficult when I realised that we had all types of umpires within the group. This means that we had field, boundary and goal umpires, and it was my job to teach them on every aspect, whether I was qualified or not. So I tried to think back to my one game of boundary umpiring and my half a game of goal umpiring to see what I could teach them. I also had to think back to what the other umpires do at my umpiring training at home. Most of the time I’m just running lap after lap after lap, so I do get a chance to see the other umpires. I tried my best to incorporate all the umpires in each drill we did, but in the end it pretty much just ended up being about the field umpire. I tried, but field is all I really know well.

We had a similar session the next morning before we would have to put it all to practice in the game against a Geelong team from St Mary’s football club in the afternoon. St Mary’s had been travelling around South Africa with boys from the under 16 and under 18 teams, I think as a tour of SA Tour/End of Season trip. They’d already played one game against Western Cape in Cape Town and were surprised that they ‘only’ won by 6 goals. Now it was time to take on the inaugural under 18 South African Lions. I, with the help of Cleo and Lulu assigned the umpires to the match. Cleo and Lulu were in the field while the rest were in boundary and goal. I tried to make it that everyone got a turn because I know that they are not exposed to footy very often, so they need all the games they can get.

The game started off well, but after about 10 minutes, St Mary’s just overran SA and beat them by over 100 points in the end. You could tell that these Aussie boys had grown up with footy their whole lives, whereas footy for the South African players is so new. But they fought hard against a very good side. The umpires did well too. Blow outs can sometimes be hard to umpire because the losing team gets so frustrated that they can do stupid things. Lucky this didn’t happened in our game. It was actually the St Mary’s players who were getting a bit narky at some decisions. But I just told them to give the umpires a break and that seemed to work. 

U18 South Africa Lions and St Marys
In the game, I was on the field the whole time, shadowing the field umpires, paying free kicks if they missed them, or getting them to watch how I did some things for a little bit. It was certainly an odd experience because you were in and out of the game, watching all the umpires, the ball and the players. It was a lot to concentrate on but it was fun at the same time. I have no idea if I was being a good coach or teacher at all. Next time I’ll have to get Nev and Marty to link up? Oh, and I also forgot to mention that Potch is a very hot town. It would have been about 30 degrees when we were umpiring, even at 4pm in the afternoon. A bit different from the freezing cold temperatures of a Melbourne winter’s day, with rain lashing across the field and ice cold winds ripping through your uniform. It would have been nice to have the sprinkler system of Cape Town at this game. There certainly would have been a few water fights! 

Brigitte, myself, Charmine and Thembi
The next day there were no games, so this meant that I had some coaching to do. In other words, a 2-hour workshop. I really didn’t have anything planned and had to wing most of what I was doing, but I think it was useful. The main issue with umpiring here is that the umpires don’t really know where to stand and they don’t really anticipate where the ball will go. But that will definitely come in time when they are exposed and watch more footy. It can be a pretty predictable game if you watch enough of it! So we spoke about positioning and also did some practical work on it. To mix things up, in the last 15 minutes of the session I made up a ten question quiz, with umpiring questions as well as footy questions on it. They all got really into it which was great! And they all knew who had won the 2012 Grand Final. Carn the Swannies!

It’s still pretty surreal that there is footy in South Africa, and that even though it is half way across the world, it is still so similar to home, but in some ways so very different. The singing is what makes it incredible. The boys will be on the bus going to the game, on the bus leaving the game, just at the ground or cheering another team, but each time they will sing. I have no idea what they are singing about because it’s in a different language but the harmony of their voices and the beats they make with their feet and hands are amazing. The hairs on the back of my neck would stand up every time I heard them singing. I definitely felt that I was experiencing footy African style! 

Cleo and I

Zamo and I

Dinho and I (he's a player)

Thandie and I

Unathi and I

The next day saw four games being played. It was the Grand Final for the U18 age group of which Western Cape won, as well as the 3rd and 4th positions for the U18s and the open age group. There was also one more game for the team from St Mary’s, their last game before they jetsetted home the next day. They were playing Western Cape. I know that St Mary’s won but I don’t think it was by such a big margin like the last game they played. It was my job to allocate each umpire to the games, to make sure no umpires missed out, or to make sure that some weren’t umpiring too many games. I was helped by the other umpires which was great. Most umpires got to have a go at doing different roles on the ground. I helped out with most games, being on the field, following the umpires around, being their coach. They all did really well and I could see that they had been listening to what I’d been telling them throughout the week, and if they forgot, I’d remind them. It was very tiring, and being slightly under the weather, I was certainly happy for two of the St Mary’s parents to umpire the last game. I, and I’m sure the other umpires needed a bit of a rest.
One highlight of my time in Potch was getting to know new people. Being at Monash, sort of out in the middle of nowhere, it is hard to meet new people and to really get to know them. But being in Potch, it was so refreshing to meet new people, and find out stuff about them, and to see that they shared the same passion that I have of footy. Everyone was so welcoming of me, like I’d been with AFL South Africa for years when it had really only been once before. The umpires were all so lovely and most were willing to learn new things. Only once did a couple of umpires fall asleep when I was teaching them. A good result I’d say. I was just so happy to be able to experience another side of South Africa, out of Uni life and where I wasn't really a tourist. I really felt like I was a part of the organisation, and it is a real credit to Phindi, July, and co, as well as the umpires and players for making me feel this way. I miss all of them very much! But hopefully some of them will be able to come over to Australia and learn from the professionals rather than just me.

All of the umpires... what babes!
The last day of the tournament saw the Grand Final between Gauteng (GAU-TENG!) and Western Cape. Western Cape has been a relatively dominant power in South Africa for a few years so I think people wanted Gauteng to get up for the win. I had allocated umpires for this match, but politics had their way and it was down to me and two St Mary’s guys umpiring the game. This was so because unfortunately they didn’t want any umpire from WC or Gauteng to be the field umpires because they might favour their team. I know this doesn’t happen with the umpires and it’s a not a nice thing to say that could happen, but politics is politics and sometimes it gets in the way. I stuck to the middle of the field the whole time while the other two had the 50s. The organisers were worried that there would be fighting in the game because it was the biggest game of the year, but fortunately there wasn’t. I made sure it didn’t happen.

Gauteng started off really well, but then Western Cape came back. The game was very much an arm wrestle for most of the time. Gauteng did well, then Western Cape did, then Gauteng came back, but in the end it was Western Cape who took home the trophy. Supposedly it was a 10-point margin, but it felt a lot more like 25 points in the end. But no biggy, Western Cape were happy to have won, and Gauteng knew that they had lost. I was pretty pooped when the game was done. Six games in four days is tiring stuff, and being sick made it a little bit harder. So I was relieved that the tournament was finished, but sad to have to say goodbye to people that I’d gotten to know and wouldn’t know when I’d see them again.

Western Cape player Khaya and myself with the trophy 
Oupa and myself

Siya and myself
But it wasn’t time to go just yet. We had to wait for the buses, and in the meantime, us ‘coaches’ went to a local bar/restaurant to pass the time. It was in the African part of Potch and was really cool. We ate some meat, probably beef (I’m not too sure what it was) and pup, a maize, rice sort of thing. It was yummy and a traditional South African dish. Sipho, a guy who works for AFL SA drove me around the town, just to show me what it was like, as well as where he lived. We drove around in Phindi’s awesome car. She has a convertible mini cooper which I will steal one day very soon, as soon as I learn how to drive manual! Watch out Phindi, it’s going to happen!

After the lunch/afternoon tea break, we joined the rest of the buses. But an executive decision had been made by Phindi and myself that I would stay an extra night so I could hang out with her and July. And I’m very glad I did! It was so great to be able to hang out with them, two people I've had lots of communication with through phone and email but hadn’t really met properly. They are both such lovely, funny, kind people who let me stay in their house (once July brought the keys..ah Phindi, good times!).

Phindi I will steal this car. Me with Burgoyne (Benji's boy)

We be cruisin'
 I enjoyed watching July’s amazing and hilarious dancing at a local bar that we went to that night. He would imitate that I was falling asleep, but I swear July, I was just watching the rugby! Although I was extremely exhausted so maybe I was falling asleep…ah it was such an amazing week where I was able to meet some incredible people that I know are going to be my friends for many years to come. I really hope that soon I can go back to Potch to join in with the Nationals again because it was such an awesome experience.

Phindi, the cutest person ever!
July, the man with the best dance moves around!

July and Phindi

To everyone who made me feel so welcome during the Nationals, thank you so much! You really made my week one that I won’t forget. Keep loving footy and hopefully I’ll see you soon, be it in South Africa or Australia!

GAUTENG, over and out!

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Drakensberg and Lesotho Part 3

Time for part 3 of our Drakensberg and Lesotho Adventures. Sorry it has taken me a while to write this one, but Uni assignments and more travelling have got in the way. But it's a rainy and cloudy day here in Joburg, the perfect blog writing weather.

If you missed part 2 of our adventure you can read it here, and if you missed part 1, catch it here.

So after our crazy adventures up and down a mountain in one day, we decided that today we would be a little more relaxed and venture into Lesotho. For those who don't know, Lesotho is a country within South Africa, much like A.C.T is in New South Wales... but Lesotho is a bit more exciting than Canberra.

We once again had to drive a few hours to reach our destination, through townships, around mountains and along bumpy roads. But after about two hours we reached the border of South Africa and Lesotho, popped out our passports, got a stamp and onward we drove into another country. 

It was amazing to see the different a simple border can have on a country. Once we reached the actual border of Lesotho, there was no checkpoint (there used to be but it got damaged), the roads were unpaved and very muddy, there were no street signs or robots (traffic lights). It was crazy that a five minute drive back the other way would see you in South Africa, to paved roads, streets signs, houses and all the things in modern society. 

However, although Lesotho didn't seem to be as 'developed' as South Africa, it was an incredibly beautiful country. It is a country that is surrounded by mountains. Everywhere you look you see these lovely mountains, some snowcapped, some grassy but all of them beautiful. A little fun fact is that Lesotho the highest country in the world because its lowest point is about 1300m, the highest low point of any country in the world.  

Our first stop was to see a local school that has been receiving funds from the Backpackers we were staying at, the Amphitheatre Backpackers. We were given the low-down about Lesotho by a teacher that works at the school. He informed us that the people of Lesotho are not called Lesothians but indeed Basothos or Basutos, and that the language that is spoken is not Lesotho but Sesotho. As you can see all these words contain the word 'Sotho', which means high in Sesotho, which is fitting for the highest country in the world.

Cows having a graze..
Once we had been shown the school and learned a bit about Lesotho, we headed on a stroll which turned into a little bit of a hike through the forests and hills of this beautiful country. It was a beautiful day for a walk, with only the wind being the only downer for the whole day. The sun was shining and there was barely a cloud in the sky and you really felt that you were in a different country. The people looked different, spoke a different language and had a different way of life to people just a stone's throw away in South Africa. Lesotho is a very agriculture country (from what we saw), where farmers tend their cattle and crops, wearing big woolly blankets to keep the strong winds out.

The girls, with the beautiful scenery in the background
After our little stroll through Lesotho, we stopped off to eat our packed lunch on the top of a little hill looking out onto the mountains and fields, watching farms gathering their animals or simply tending to their homes. Then we keep walking, heading back to where we had started our walk from. On the way back, we stopped to look at some rock art that had been left by the native people of Lesotho, the San people. It was quite faded and dilapidated and hadn't really been looked after like it should have been. Nonetheless, it was still interesting to see some rock art, although it wasn't quite similar or as old to the rock art we have back at home, it was still cool to see!   

Lesotho yo!
Our next stop was to find a house that had a white flag out the front. This wasn't a sign of surrender but a sign to say that we would go into the house and taste some local beer. It was very similar to beer that we tasted on the first day of our adventure, made out of maize and brown sugar, with very little alcohol. It was pretty yummy, although the after-taste was a little bit dodgy. It was awesome to be able to go into a person's house and be welcomed in even though we were complete strangers. It's something that just doesn't really happen at home and it is so refreshing to meet new people and be able to see how they live without feeling that you are intruding on their everyday life. 

White flag means free beer!

Our last stop in Lesotho was to visit a Sangoma, much like we did on the first day of our adventure. We visited her in her home which was a little round house. Here, she told us the story of how she became a Sangoma and what a Sangoma does. Unfortunately we were short on time as the border into South Africa closes at 5pm so we could only spend about 15 minutes with the Sangoma. Nonetheless, the story she had to tell was extremely interesting and much like the one of the previous Sangoma we met on our first day in Drakensberg. It is funny to think, or perhaps not, that the story of how one becomes a Sangoma is so similar despite the fact that they are from different countries, different cultures and speak different languages. I guess that borders really are only superficial barriers for people, but ideas, beliefs and cultural traditions are able to break down those barriers, bringing people and cultures together.

The Sangoma in Lesotho
After we had visited the Sangoma it was time to unfortunately leave this beautiful country and head back into South Africa. Driving past the beautiful mountains and rolling fields, we hit the bitumen road that told us we were nearing the border back into SA. It had been a lovely day, and although we were all exhausted for 3 very full-on days, we were still sad to leave this glorious country behind us and to head back into 'modern' South Africa. Lesotho was a place that I was definitely glad that we visited because it gave such an enormous juxtaposition about how people can lives such different lives so close to one another. On one side of the border you had bitumen roads, traffic lights, houses with electricity and not a cow in sight, but drive for 5 minutes through a border and across a hill and boom, the scenery was completely different. It was as rural as you could get, and there a definite sense of calm about the whole country. It was almost as if the mountains that encapsulate Lesotho have been able to keep away the chaos that can occur just across the border. 

Welcome back to South Africa

But back across the border we went and into the sometimes chaotic South Africa we ventured. This time we had to make the long drive all the way back to Johannesburg and Monash Uni, because yes, I sometimes have to attend class! After about 5 hours of driving we made it back to the Sig (Ruimsig) and back to the lovely world of Monash. What an incredible weekend we 5 girls had! It really has been such a highlight for my time here so far in South Africa.

I hope you've enjoyed reading about our little adventure in Drakensberg and Lesotho. I have really enjoyed writing about it!

Hope everyone is going great wherever you are reading this from in the world!


Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Drakensberg and Lesotho Part 2

Part 2 (read part 1 first, find it here)

After an incredible day exploring the town near our awesome hostel yesterday, today we ventured to the mountains to climb the top of the Amphitheatre. Although we had seen pictures of what it might look like, we really have no idea what to expect, or how huge these mountains might be. 

We hoped in the bus at about 7.30am and drove for 2 hours, past thatched-roof homes, past beautiful scenery, past huge townships, past runners/ walkers participating in what seemed to be some type of fun run and finally up the mountain to our starting point. 

The bus ride up the mountain was quite interesting. We really should have been in a 4WD but in fact we were in a minibus. The road was unsealed and had many large rocks in the middle of it. I was seating at the back, so every time we went over a rock I jumped a foot in the air. It reminded me of our many wonderful bus rides in Nepal. Luckily this one was only bad for about 20 minutes rather than 12 hours. 

Now that we were all warmed up from our bumpy ride up the mountain, it was time to start walking. Our group, consisting of nearly 30 people began the big climb at about 10am. We had been told that we should get back to this spot at about 4pm, only time will tell if that happened. 

The gang going for a stroll
The walk started off quite easy. We were following a man-made path while trying to see the views of the mountains through the low-lying cloud. Sometimes the clouds broke and you could see the massive cliff faces above you, but only for a few seconds as it got cloudy again.  

Sentinal Peak, what we had to walk around
As we climbed higher and higher we could see more and more little specks of snow, until there was snow all around us. After about an hour of walking our feet were getting covered in snow. Us girls were not prepared for the amount of snow that we saw nor that we would need waterproof shoes. Our runners did not suffice at all. After about 2 hours of walking my feet were quite wet. The only good thing was that the water in my shoe become warm the more I walked (gross I know!), until I stepped into a big patch of snow, then it became cold again!
Emma and her snowball
Oh hello there snow!

The walk also became increasingly difficult the more snow we encountered. We had to carefully walk through the snow and the sludge and make sure we didn't fall over. The rocks that we were walking on became a little bit slippery as the snow melted when the clouds parted and the sun came out. Unfortunately for us that wasn't too often as we climbed up to the Amphitheatre mountain. But little did we know that our hardest challenge was still before us, and it came in the form of a 20m long ladder. We had to climb this ladder to get on the top of the plateau that was the Amphitheatre. I'm not afraid of heights, but climbing this ladder did give me the shakes. It was a metal ladder that was attached at the top the plateau and at the bottom, but not in between. So image you're climbing a pretty unstable ladder more like 2500m above the ground, up the cliff face of a mountain. Just a little bit scary. Oh and it's a bit wet because of the snow. Gosh was I relieved when I reached the top.  

The ladder begins!

Or at least I thought it was the top. But low and behold, there was another ladder. Luckily this one as only about 10m long and the views were definitely worth it when we reached the actual top! Sophie and Gaelle are a little afraid of heights so it was quite an amazing feat that they accomplished, walking straight up a cliff face, on a rickety ladder for 30m. Well done kids :) And we all made it up, fortunately we didn't lose anyone on the way up!

We made it! Emma and Marion
 Once we reached the snow covered plateau (it would have been at least 30cm deep), we ate our lunch. And it was a lunch with a view. We could see out onto the Drakensberg rangers, onto a dam and onto the houses that looked like little specks from the height that we were at. I think our guide said that we were at about 3200m,, crazy town!

Sophie reaches the top, with a lovely view in the background
On top of the world, almost!

I thought that we had nearly finished the walk because by this time it was about 2pm and we were supposed to be back at the bus at 4pm. But if I have learnt anything here, time is not a very structured concept. T.I.A baby (this is Africa). So after a quick lunch, we set off once again, through the snow to our destination which was the Tugela Falls, the second highest waterfall in the world and the highest in Africa. The snow was getting remarkably deeper and I had given up trying to keep my feet at all dry. I was also towards the front of the pack so that mean the snow had not been broken into as much. I was trying to follow the footprints in front of me but the snow was getting in the way. It took us about an hour to walk what was probably 1.5km across the top of the mountains.  

Lots and lots of snow!
But after much trudging, me falling over while trying to cross a little creek (thanks Marion for getting a photo), getting wet feet, the water warming inside my shoes then getting cold again from the snow, we made it to the Tugela Falls! Phew! Five hours later we were there! The view was pretty glorious. Imagine you are standing on a 1km high cliff, and below you is more mountains, just before those mountains there is a drop of 1km. Well that's we were, at the top of the cliff/ mountain.  

At the top of the Amphitheatre Mountains
The view..

We stayed at the top of the mountain for only a short time because we had to get back to the bus before it got dark. It took us nearly 5 hours to reach the top, but we had to be quicker on the way down because it was already 3pm. We couldn't be walking at 7pm and onwards because it would be dark, and we could possibly fall off the mountain.

 The walk back across the plateau and to the ladders was a lot quicker and easy than before. The almost 30-strong group had created a path through the snow, much like a pack of animals would create a migration path. That's what first sprang to my mind walking back across the plateau. And when I looked across the snow covered mountain top, I did indeed see some animals (no not other humans). I saw baboons! Crazy to think that baboons could be living so high on a mountain top, but there they were. We couldn't get that close to them because the snow separated us, but I don't think I would have wanted to because I hear they can be quite feisty.

What took us nearly one hour to get across, took us 20 minutes to go back. And back to the scary ladders we were. Going down was just as bad as going up, or perhaps even worse, because you could see down the cliff when you looked at where to put your feet. But after what felt like a lifetime my feet hit solid ground, and off down the mountain we went. Down over the slippery rocks, through the sludgy snow, past the rocky terrain and across the beautiful landscape that is Drakensberg.

The sun coming through the clouds

Luckily for us the clouds had cleared and we were able to see the setting African sun, saying goodbye to us behind the Drakensberg ranges. It was such a beautiful site that I think I stopped at least 10 times to take a photo, even though the picture hadn't really changed.  

The view on the way down 

Can you see the people? The scale of how big the mountains were

Finally at just before 6pm we arrived at the buses! It had taken us 5 hours to walk up the mountain and 3 hours to walk down! A total of eight hours! But what a day. The scenery was so amazing that it's hard to describe in this blog (but I hope I've done it some justice). Everyone that walked up the mountain made it down again, even if we did have only two guides for the group of 30. By the time we made it back to our hostel it was almost 8.30pm, and time for dinner! After dinner Marion, Gaelle and I relaxed in the spa (in the middle of the bar), resting our weary feet and warming our bodies from the cold snow. Oh, and we had a cocktail or two in there as well.

It was another glorious day of our Drakensberg and Lesotho adventures. It's amazing how much you can fit into one day, and climbing a mountain in the snow is a fair effort.

Next up we travel overseas (again), well not literally but into another country, that of Lesotho! The country inside the country of South Africa, and the highest country in the world. I'll explain in the blog. Keep reading.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Drakensberg and Lesotho

Part 1

Whenever I asked people what I should do or where I should go in South Africa, Drakensburg was a place that was said by many people. I had heard that the mountains were beautiful and a great spot for hiking, something that I love to do. So when the girls in our exchange group decided that we wanted to have a girls weekend, Drakensberg was number one on the list. I was pleasantly surprised that this hiking and mountainous area was on the top of the lists of all the other girls of Sophie, Emma, Marion and Gaelle.

So Drakensberg for the weekend it was!

Again trying to spend as little time at Uni as we could, we hired a car and left for Drakensberg on Thursday afternoon. A few hours before we were about to leave, Joburg was hit with one of the biggest storms I had seen. The thunder was so loud that it sounded like it was on top of us, the hail was like snow and the lightening was massive. Fortunately the storm settled down a bit so we could drive the 4 and a bit hours to Drakensberg.

Emma took the driver's seat first, with Sophie as co-pilot. They navigated the wet roads of Joburg city very well, and the highway with ease. Unfortunately we had forgotten to buy an AUX cord which allows you to play your ipod through the car radio, but we had a solution. I had speakers from good old Kathmandu and I plugged my ipod into them so we could still listen to my sweet tunes. I was DJ so everyone was forced to listen to Missy Higgins, Paul Kelly, Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, Ben Howard etc..but I didn't hear many complaints...or everyone had fallen asleep to my easy listening music..

After a few hours Marion took the wheel and I became her co-pilot. For those who don't know, Marion is from France and therefore normally drives on the right hand side of the road. I had to remind her as we left the petrol station that she had to go right rather than left onto the Highway, but she was already onto it so we were sweet.

Marion mastered the Highway driving, going at about 130km which is probably slow compared to what they drive in France. However, after about 30 minutes of driving from Marion we turned onto one of the worse roads I've ever seen, and at this point the sun was setting so I could hardly even see the road. It had no street lights, was 80 per cent gravel, lines that could barely be seen, many potholes and was only one lane. Marion ended up driving on the right side of the road because there was no left lane, ironic hey! Oh and did I mention that we didn't have any high beam lights? This made for difficult driving.

As co-pilot I had to navigate Marion around all the potholes, patches of gravel and to direct her to which way the road was going. Sometime I was a bit slow with my direction and we all jumped a few inches of our seats as we hit a pothole. I would let out a little yelp as this happened which freaked out Soph, Emma and Gaelle, but this yelp was one more of excitement than being scared. This road went for about 50km, and it took us about an hour to do that, so you can imagine how bad the road actually was. But we made it through and onto the other side to a paved and lined road, but still no street lights. Then it was about another 20 minutes until our backpackers.

We arrived at the Amphitheatre Backpackers and Travellers Lodge at about 9pm and as soon as we walked into the reception we knew that this was one cool place. The light shade at the front desk looked like it had come from Nepal, the wallpaper was old beer and food labels and there were traditional ornaments randomly placed in the room. It was hands down one of the coolest places I'd ever stayed at, possibly the coolest!

We hadn't really organised anything past the backpackers but we knew that we wanted to go on a hike in Drakensberg and go to Lesotho, the country that is within South Africa (sort of like Canberra, but not). Lucky for us, this amazing backpackers had it all organised! They ran walks to the Amphitheatre Mountains as well as day trips to Lesotho so we were set! The lovely receptionist showed us what the walk would look like and told us all about it. It looked amazing, so as a team we decided that it was a must! And who doesn't want to visit a country within a country? We do, and decided that we would!

If we thought that this backpackers couldn't get any cooler, we thought wrong.

We arrived at our room to find that it was in fact an old silo that had been converted into an 8-bed dorm, complete with a thatch roof and a toilet. It was very cute! Sophie and I got to share the double bed which was up a little ladder, in the roof of the room. The ladder was a bit hazardous, especially if either of us needed to go to the toilet in the dark during the night, but we survived the 3 night stay with all bones intact.

Our thatch roof silo

As we arrived quite late on Thursday night, we decided that Friday would be a relaxing day where we could hang out at the hostel and see the sights of the surrounding towns. We had a very lazy morning consisting of sleeping, reading, eating and exploring our awesome backpackers. In the afternoon, it was arranged that we would go to the local town, check out the local medical clinic, meet a traditional healer, taste some locally brewed beer and visit an orphanage. We weren't expecting too much from the afternoon but I can say, and I think the other girls would agree that it was such a worthwhile experience where we felt that we had actually arrived in Africa rather than being a little bit caged up at Monash. I learnt more in the 2 hours of meeting and talking to people than I had in the past 2 months of being here. That's not to say that I haven't learnt some amazing things, it's just the knowledge from the people we met was so interesting and insightful.

At the medical clinic we visited, a lovely Sister showed us around and told us the things that they can do there. It is a free clinic for everyone who needs assistance. It's not a hospital but more of a consultation clinic. The Sister was telling us that her and the other sisters (nurses) can administer, such as checking someone's BP, heart rate, give injections for infants, children and adults, try and fix ailments that patients come in for as well as being able to deliver babies. It seemed like such a well-run clinic, and especially because it was free. We were pretty impressed that you could get free health care in a rural part of South Africa, and from such lovely nurses!
Gaelle getting her blood pressure checked, it was normal. 
Our next stop was the traditional healer called a Sangoma. She was the cutest, most interesting and energetic old lady I had ever met. She told us the story of how she became a Sangoma in Zulu, which was translated to us by our guide. The story of becoming a Sangoma is relatively the same for each one. They are born a sickly child, never fully healthy and always needing medical attention. In one point of their lives they will get very sick where they will require help that no one can give them. For the Sangoma that we met, her name was Beauty, she became sick at 15. She went to the doctors who couldn't do anything, she went to a traditional healer and they didn't know what to do. She was so sick that people thought that she was going to die. At last she went to a Sangoma that knew what her problem was. She was being called by the ancestors to become a Sangoma herself. The sickness was a sign that she could have the power and connection with her ancestors to be able to heal sick people. It was now the job of the Sangoma that has recognised her illness as a calling so taught Beauty what she had to do to become a traditional healer.

Traditional Sangoma Beauty in her traditional get-up (with a Springbok jersey underneath, classic!)

When Beauty was telling us her story, I couldn't help but think of Indigenous Australians and their connection to their ancestors and how they use this connection as a source of power and healing. Some people call this magic or sorcery, but to me it's culture at its finest. We European Australians are so pragmatic when it comes to culture that in a way we are lacking so much. Our history is so immediate and short, we don't seem to have a connection to something bigger than ourselves (the Monarchy doesn't count). I suppose you could call religion our ancestors, but for Beauty her ancestors could give her so much more than religion could. They could tell her what natural medicine to give to a patient, whether something good was about or happen, or whether she should avoid something because only bad things would come of it. One example she gave was when she wanted to go to the shops to buy something, but all of a sudden her legs started to cramp up and she couldn't move. The ancestors did not want her to go to the shops for some reason. She resigned to the fact that she was not going to the shops that day. After that her legs were no longer cramped and she could move.

Despite the medical clinic just up the road, people do still come and see the Sangoma because western medicine can't fix everything. As much as people would love to believe that it can, and believe you me, western medicine has done some wonderful things and the power of technology is amazing, sometimes a simple pill or injections just won't help you. That's where a Sangoma comes in. She is able to help people with epilepsy, TB, chronic pain etc with natural medicines that she makes up herself. Oh and did I mention that she is also a mother of 8 children? All in a day's work for this Sangoma!

After that lovely visit, we headed off down the road to taste some local beer called Umqombothi, which comes for the Xhosa language. When you pronounced the name of the beer, it has a click sound in the middle of it because when you say a q in Xhosa  you have to click. Every time our guide pronounced it I would give a little gasp at how awesome it sounded! The beer was quite nice and tasted more like cider than beer. It is made out of corn, maize malt, sorghum malt, yeast, water, and a very small amount of alcohol, only about 2 per cent.
Tasting some local beer, yummo!
We then visited a lovely church which had been built by the locals, as well as an orphanage which had been set up by and funded by Belgium people. Then, unfortunately it was time for our amazing afternoon to end, and we made our way back to our awesome hostel. Our first day in Drakensberg had been amazing, and was capped off with a lovely Madagascan style dinner thanks to Gaelle, which was made up of spinach, duck and rice, as well as cocktails by the bar and a dip in the spa!

We needed a relaxing night for the big day that was to follow; hiking up a mountain in the snow. That is Part 2 of our Drakensberg/Lesotho adventures! Click here to read it!