Orientation and Flying here:
May 3-5: Orientation
My younger sister Laura, and my Dad dropped me off in Toronto to my orientation session before I left for South Africa. (My mom had to work) It just so happened that it was scheduled around the time I was leaving, so it worked out great for me. The Salesian Sisters were all so welcoming to me, and I ate dinner with them since I had to be dropped off early. The Sister who was in charge of cooking that night gave me chocolates and a fancy napkin in my cup at my place setting; it was really cute.
The other participants arrived soon after, and the orientation weekend officially started.
Over the weekend I got to be good friends with two girls, Stephanie and Addy, both going to Cambodia at different times. Previous volunteers came back to tell us their stories, and to teach us the history of the Salesian Sisters, what to expect, how the Salesian Sisters operate their schools and development projects (exactly the way how we were taught in classes this past year), how to live in community, getting to know ourselves better in order to know how we best operate, etc. VIDES is actively involved in the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals in all of the places they work in the work, and is an International NGO with consultative status with the United Nations.
May 6-7: Toronto to JFK, JFK to Dubai, Dubai to Johannesburg.
Well, I didn't get much sleep last night, but that's what always happens before a big trip, right? Sister Jeannine took me to the airport at 3:30am! On my flight from Toronto to JFK, I slept, and from JFK to Dubai (12.5 hours) I also could really sleep as I had all 3 seats to myself. (I buckled myself in the middle, and could lay across all three seats. The plane had a great entertainment centre, and I could watch Friends, How I Met Your Mother, New Girl, etc. Awesome. And of course, Coldplay showed up again, having the option to watch their live “Paradise” video, and a documentary of their album. I slept a ton, though. The Dubai airport was cool, and it was neat to see the desert out of the plane window while approaching the airport. Also, I saw the Sailboat building, just like on the cover of Owl City's album.
On my flight from Dubai to Johannesburg, I wasn't so lucky with free seats by me, and most of the plane was occupied. I slept most of the time as well, 8 hours. I like how on the flights, instead of the plane safety instructions in French and English like in Canada, it was in Arabic and English. (And the coke I got in the Dubai airport was in Arabic as well!) Our flight was late coming in, and there was a long line for getting our passports stamped. When the passport man heard that I was going to see the Salesian Sisters, he stamped it and I was on my way. (I was told this was the case when other volunteers traveled as well.) I didn't have to go through customs because I didn't have anything officially to declare. Which is probably a good thing, since my suitcases were full of pencils, toothbrushes, books, mini shampoos and lotions, etc, and I didn't know how they would feel about that.
Two of the sisters were waiting for me with a sign with my name on it. Yes, like in the movies, like my sister Laura asked me. I was looking for them amid the rest of the people holding signs with names on them, and was thinking “man in suit, man in suit, man in suit, Ah! Sisters!!!" They drive on the other side of the road here! I have experienced it before in other countries, but I am still not used to it.
They took me back to their house, through the crazy traffic and I met the other two Sisters who lived there, as well as two other volunteers from the Czech, Magda and Anezka (pronounced “Annishka”), who has been here almost a year. They teach at the school. I ate homemade pizza with them, and tea (just like at home), was nicely greeted by one of their golden lab guard dogs who ran into their house, and then we traveled by car to the volunteer house, which is also surrounded by gates and has guard dogs. The volunteer house is really nice, and we each have our own rooms. I am so thankful that the other two girls are here with me.
Since I am the first volunteer here from Canada, there was very limited information to give me before I came. While talking with the girls tonight, and drinking a glass of South African wine to celebrate, I had lots of questions answered. They are so wonderful and welcoming, and I'm already sad that they will be leaving in 6 weeks. However, before they leave, another volunteer will be joining us from the United States.
As far as internet access goes, I will have access at the Sister's house, and apparently Skype works well. Yay!
One of the volunteers here said tonight that “South Africa is not really Africa”. That was my main concern when I was placed here. However, I know that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. The Sisters told me while riding back from the airport, how people don't think of South Africa as poor, but in the area that we will be working, it is very poor. And, close to where we live, we passed by many “shanty towns”, little shacks, and people lighting fires outside to keep warm. It gets really cold at night here.
Also, there is a social worker that works in the school here, and so she may end up being my adviser for my master's program practicum instead of one of the sisters. But, we will wait and see.
Surprisingly, I am not as tired as I thought I would be. But, I did sleep as much as possible on the planes. We are 6 hours ahead of the Michigan, so it's not too bad.
Anyway, I should get some sleep, but I will be updating my blog quite often! Goodnight!