Land of a Thousand Hills

After leaving Cape Town, my mom and I flew 4 hours north to Kigali, Rwanda. We spent 10 days exploring the country- learning about its history, its people, its land and its animals.

Although we came for the adventure, my mom and I took the first part of our trip to learn more about the country- its people and its history. We spent the first few days in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city. Much like South Africa, Rwanda has a complex recent history. In Mr. Clark’s elective about world genocides, we touched on Rwanda. It wasn’t until coming to this country did I realize the gravity of what occurred in 1994. In just 100 days one-million Rwandans were killed by a rebel force: their friends, their neighbors. We visited the genocide memorial, paying tribute to those who were killed just 17 years ago. Since the genocide the government has taken great strides to provide equal opportunities for all its citizens. Legislature regarding sanitation, the environment, reconciliation and technology has passed with great success.

We visited two villages to learn more- Agahoza-Shalom and the Reconciliation village. Agahozo-Shalom is modeled after an Israeli village- its mission is to provide a community and a quality education to orphans from the genocide. Its 375 students focus on learning critical thinking skills, rather than rote memorization. The village, perched on a country-side hill, lives by the motto- “see far, go far” inspiring its students to dream big. This village, run by the Joint Distribution Committee is focused on developing self-sustainability. We toured the village seeing everything from its grand wood-burning stoves to the new batch of 1,000 chickens that will be used for their eggs.

The following day we toured the rural area surrounding Kigali that has been touched by the United Nations Millennium Project. Drafted in 2002, there are 8 concrete goals for the mission to develop rural areas. We met a farmer who grows a special type of cassava that harvests in just 3 months, as opposed to one year. We visited a clinic with a new maternity ward, a school with brand-new wood burning kitchen, and a classroom full of smiling children showing off their laptops. The work that the Millennium project has done in rural Rwanda is astounding- bringing modern conveniences to areas that are in need of help.

The afternoon was spent at the Reconciliation village. The idea behind the village is to promote healing and forgiveness. In the village there are 10 families who were perpetrators of the genocide, living alongside 15 families that were victims of the genocide. Individuals not only live side-by-side, they work, play and plan for the future together. The community is built upon forgiveness. Two individuals told us their stories, translated from Kinyarwanda to English. Their ability to learn from the past and live in the now was truly inspiring. After listening to their stories, they asked us, “would you forgive?”

After many conversations and eye-opening experiences, we spent the remainder of the trip outside- filling our lungs with fresh air and sights to last a lifetime. We drove down to the Southwest of the country to Nyungwe Forest. We hiked and explored the national park for a few days. We hiked to a waterfall, hiked in search of chimpanzees and walked across a bridge suspended 80 meters off the ground- giving us a view from above the rainforest canopy. We met chimps, blue monkeys, golden monkeys, colobus monkeys and many, many frogs. The land is extremely lush and green- the beauty of the earth amazes me with each day.

We then headed north to Volcanoes National Park, home to the last mountain gorillas. We spent two days tracking the gorillas up in the forest. We met two troops- Agashua and Kwitanda. We came within feet of the whole family: the babies, juveniles, females, blackbacks and mighty silverbacks. They are incredible creatures to observe. We watched as they ate, cleaned themselves and their family, cared for their young, pounded on their chests and observed us as we stood just feet away.

After four months of traveling, I headed home for Cleveland. Adventures and summertime in New Hampshire right around the corner.

Sobonana Africa, ndiyathanda kakhulu!

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Sala Kakhule eKapa

After 15 weeks in and around Cape Town, my semester abroad has come to a close. Through the ups and downs, home-stays and excursions- I’m walking away from this experience with a full heart. The best part of my semester? The kindness and love each family extended to me, taking me in as their own daughter. Showing me the interior of their daily lives: their culture, their religion and their way of life. Living with a family is a unique experience that teachers a new way of life, and perspective of the world we live in. These families have shaped who I am- I am forever grateful for their compassion and willingness to both teach and learn.

My last month in Cape Town has been incredibly busy, the highlights are as follows…

Wrapping up my independent study project. After a month of research and analysis, I completed a 45-page report on the current state of access to higher education from Cape Town’s townships. My research took the form of interviews, working with four distinct demographics: township students in high school, township high school educators, first-year university students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and university educators. Each population was interviewed in regards to their position on the issue of access. Findings revealed that the doors to higher education are slimly open, providing very little access for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Since the apartheid era, the 1950s to mid 1990s, much has been done by the government to provide equal education to all of its citizens. There is still a long road ahead before this country truly lives up to its constitution that states, “the doors to learning shall be opened.”

Exploration of SA. Over the course of my month-long research project my friends and me took some time to explore the city further. Weekends at Mzolies- a township-wide braai full of music, dancing and meat. Visits to our old families and meeting my sisi from Langas new baby- her name is Apalale and was beautifully born in early April. Relaxing at the beach, soaking in the best of the SA sun. River rafting on the Bredee River north of Cape Town. And best of all- exploring the city’s nightlife. After living with families, under our mama’s house rules we were craving to see a little more of the city after dark. Afrika Burn- a weekend spent up north in the Karoo desert. The artists, poets, musicians, commoners and lunatics meet annually in the desert for an unforgettable weekend. Days of interactive art, sculptures, writings, self-expression, trance music, costumes, music on wheels, make-believe and FIRE. I also decided to chop off 11 inches of my hair to donate. It was time for something new!

Hours old


Africa Cafe


Afrika Burn

The Burn

Swimming with a shark. Friends and I ventured into the waters off the coast of Cape Town for a swim with a great white. Our boat anchored next to Seal Island, which is home to 65,000 seals, a feast for great whites. We went cage diving- swimming in a cage while a 3.1m great white shark circled us. It was an incredibly exhilarating experience. On our way back to shore our captain spotted a pack of over 600 Common Dolphins. We slowed and watched as these incredibly smart animals swam and jumped alongside our boat. Absolutely stunning.

Mom comes to eKapa! After my program ended my mom flew over from Ohio to visit me in Cape Town. Although we had bad weather and just a few days- I gave her a whirlwind tour of the city. We visited the best of the best in Cape Town: my old neighborhood in Bokaap, Green Market Square and the city-center, Old Biscuit Mill, Robben Island, the Waterfront, Camp’s Bay, hiked Lion’s Head and visited my family in Langa Township. Our few days ended with a group dinner, all the SIT students who stayed on with their families who came to visit. It was a wonderful weekend showing off the city and giving my mom a glimpse of my life in Cape Town.

Today I said sobonana to Cape Town and headed north. We arrived in Kigali, Rwanda for about two weeks of traveling. We will be visiting a number of local communities as well as national parks. It should be quite an adventure!  Stay tuned for a few more words and photos from Rwanda.

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Water is LIFE, Sanitation is DIGNITY

Each year on April 27th South Africa celebrates Freedom Day, a public holiday commemorating the first democratic elections held in South Africa 17 years ago today. After a half-century of white elitist rule, the 90% black majority took power just 17 years ago. The elections marked the transition from apartheid to democracy, from segregation to unity. People of all ages were casting their very first ballots. Individuals stood in queues miles and miles long, waiting to have their voice heard for the very first time.

Today, thousands of South Africans gathered at Saint Georges Cathedral in the center of town to protest the current sanitation issues. The Social Justice Coalition hosted a Toilet Queue during which thousands of individuals came together to give the government a wake up call to the issues they’ve been ignoring.

Speakers took the podium yelling Amandla! Viva! Black power! Individuals spoke in a mix of isiXhosa and English about the issues of sanitation. Participants listened with intent, cheering and clapping. This rally was focused on the township of Khayelitsha. Similar to Langa, there are areas of the township that are considered “informal settlements.” These areas of the township are shack communities that lack proper sanitation.

Members of the Khayelitsha Township community wore t-shirts showing “water is life, sanitation is dignity.” The keynote speaker, Zackie Achmat, spoke to us just a few weeks ago at SIT about the importance of nationalism. Today he spoke about how much has changed in the last 17 years, but many South Africans still lack basic amenities such as clean and safe sanitation.

After a powerful speech, participants marched outside and onto the street. We walked the length of the downtown Cape Town, all in unity. Women sang, young boys drummed, and everyone marched to the beat. People of all ages came out to support the need for clean sanitation. The march stopped in front of city hall, where we were met by a do not cross line and Cape Town police standing shoulder to shoulder. Individuals protesting began to queue- lining up to symbolize that millions of South Africans are constantly waiting for the government to provide clean sanitation. Individuals stood in front of city hall for hours, showing the government officials the strength of the community. In South Africa’s constitution, citizens are guaranteed the right to these basic provisions, yet they are not being delivered.

Individuals in townships such as Khayelitsha face major challenges when it comes to sanitation. It is degrading and humiliating to use a public bathroom because your home has no running water, or to use a bucket system to dispose of your waste. There are also great issues of safety. Individuals that have to walk a great distance to use the toilet face issues such as assault, rape and murder. Also, a lack of sanitation increases individuals’ risk of waterborne diseases and parasites. This is an issue that is in dire need of attention and action by the South African government.

Time will tell if these issues are resolved. Hopefully today sparked a realization by the government that they need to recognize the urgency of this issue. Government must plan and implement provisions for sanitation in every household in Khayelitsha, and other informal settlements in the Cape Town area. I have never felt so powerful as just one individual amongst a crowd of thousands.

Photograph of the voting queues on April 27th, 1994

The march begins

The crowd meets city hall

Community strength

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Rites of South Africa

While Vanderbilt partied at the annual spring weekend, Ricky, Gerik and I declared this week Rites of South Africa. Ricky joined Gerik and I for the week for his holiday from studying abroad in Brazil. Gerik took a bit of time off his studies at the University of Cape Town, and I took a little break from my research.

Our week was spent eating well, drinking well and showing off the city. We took a trip to Simon’s Town to visit the penguins, to Stellenbosch to taste wines, hiked the famous Table Mountain, went to a braai, walked to the waterfront, explored a craft market, walked through my old neighborhood in Bokaap, went to a colorful and delicious food market, and explored some wildlife unique to the waters of Cape Town.

The week was a whirlwind tour, showing Ricky as many highlights as we could fit into a week’s stay. Each sight we showed off reminded me of the beauty of this country. Everything from the mountains, to the city to the sea- was picturesque. We exchanged hundreds of stories about our semesters, reminiscing about trips taken and sights seen.

On Monday evening I was invited into a family’s home to celebrate Pesach. A friend of a friend of a friend set me up with this family to celebrate the holiday. A random assortment of students were invited into their home, sparking interesting conversations about life in SA. Their home was incredibly modern and funky, and their food was delicious. The Seder was similar in many respects, some new tunes and observances were unique to South Africa. Although I greatly missed my family in Cleveland who were gathered at my cousin’s house- this was a seder one I won’t soon forget.

Just two more weeks of researching and living in our beautiful home on Kloof Avenue. This semester is flying by, it’s hard to believe I can count the number of weeks I’ll be here on just one hand. I’m looking forward to filling my box and enjoying my time in here in eKapa.

The City Bowl from the top of Table Mountain

Mzolies Braai

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By the time I post this I will have finished my fourth and final homestay. I have gone from a black township, to a rural Xhosa village, to a white Afrikaner family in wine-country, to a Cape Malayan Muslim family in Bokaap. Each experience has been incredibly rewarding in completely different ways. Each has provided me with a new way of life and way of thought. Learning the insides of each culture- everything from the religion to the ingredients used in the kitchen. One common thread runs through them all: the great importance of family. The South African families that have welcomed me into their homes have showed me the significance of communicating, loving and helping family and friends.

My fourth homestay in Bokaap gave me the opportunity to see a whole new world inside of Cape Town. My family was constantly changing in size depending on the day- family members came and went throughout the day and night. My mama and papa taught me how to make chicken curry, a staple dish of the Cape Malay population. We spent our evenings preparing food, playing cards and chatting about life in SA. They showed me their lifestyle in Bokaap, while I in turn told them about American traditions and pass-times.

Our lovely pink house

Mama and Papa, sitting down before prayer


Bokaap is situated on the slopes of Signal Hill, just a few minutes walking distance from the center of town. Each afternoon was left free to explore the city… which were spent dipping in and out of markets and cafes in the city. We took an afternoon to get lost in the botanical gardens, and an evening to climb lion’s head and watch the sunset. Both which provided spectacular views and peaceful moments in nature.

This week I moved into a house with 5 incredible girls to begin our independent research projects. We have a month to conduct research through interviews and participatory observation on a variety of topics. I am focusing on students’ ambitions for higher education in the townships, versus their limited reality. I will be looking at what students believe about higher education and what the township schools are doing to improve their students’ access in furthering their education.

It should be a very interesting study. Our house is just up the hill from the city, giving us a breathtaking view of the surrounding mountains. The day we moved in also happened to be my 21st birthday. And in true a true South African fashion, we quickly made ourselves at home and had a few friends over to celebrate the occasion. After a few ciders, a birthday box, a surprise or two, friends from Vandy and friends anew, and a few more drinks to follow… it totaled with a night I won’t soon forget.

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!Khwattu to BoKaap

Last week we spent three days in the bush outside Cape Town. We visited !Khwattu, a San cultural center. We spent three days learning about the San people- the first indigenous people of Southern Africa. We learned about their traditional clothing, methods of hunting and gathering, jewelry made from ostrich shells, the use of herbal medicines and means of survival. We lived in traditional-style San huts, being carefully not to disturb the animals around. We saw zebras and impalas as well as springbok. The land was vast and was untouched by man.

Our last evening at !Khwattu we had a traditional San meal of rice with springbok. To my surprise, the meat was tender and full of flavor. We sat around for the remainder of the evening looking at the starlit sky. The stars were incredibly bright giving us a view of the southern constellations. We viewed distant planets and learned the unfamiliar formations of the southern stars. Stuart told us a few of the San legends that are written in the sky. A peaceful night to wrap up our experience at !Khwattu.

At the end of the week we moved into our fourth and final home-stay in Bokaap. This colorful neighborhood is situated a few blocks away from the center of town. Bokaap is a Muslim neighborhood, a coloured community with Malayan roots. During apartheid the Nationalists categorized all non-whites into groups: Indians, Coloureds or Blacks. Coloureds were defined as from mixed descent or from Malayan backgrounds. Many of the Bokaap residents have reclaimed this term and use it today to signify their proud heritage.

Bokaap was formed during the apartheid era, under the Nats Government. Families were uprooted from all over the city and forcibly placed in this neighborhood. Today the Bokaap community is thriving- finding a balance between the traditional Muslim culture and the young people’s desire to live in the present 21st century.

I am staying with Mama Aziza and her family- four daughters, and three grandchildren. Our house is bright pink and always has the doors open to hear the call to prayer. Muslim tradition calls for all believers to pray five times per day. Beginning before sunrise and ending hours after sunset, my mama and papa pray nearly all day long. My home is just one block away from the first mosque built in the Southern hemisphere. We have eaten spicy curry and milk pies and chatted about life in both Bokaap and in the US. I will spend another week in Bokaap learning about the history of the coloured people and preparing for my independent study project.

Over the weekend Bokaap hosted a city-wide festival full of music, dancing and food. The Bokaap residents gathered together in the center of town to celebrate the arts and come together as a community.

More photos and stories to come…

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Wine Country

I have previously mentioned that this is a country of great contrast. In the past week we have done a complete 180. We arrived last Sunday in Stellenbosch for our third homestay. We stayed with a white Afrikaans family in the beautiful wine-country just outside Cape Town. The Afrikaner population represents just 10% of the SA people, but hold almost all of the country’s economic power. They live a lifestyle of wealth and luxury. The town is quaint- streets lined with cafes and boutiques. It is a student-town, home to the University of Stellenbosch. Students walk the streets in the afternoon, hoping in and out of boutiques under the warm fall sun.

I stayed with a family of five: Mini, Yohn, Andreas, Mia and Mia’s boyfriend Yohn. We also quickly got to know their watchdog Toyitoyi and Mini’s hamster, cuppie-cake. We lived in a luxurious home and ate delicious home-cooked meals. My home had a wine cellar, flat screen TV, dog without fleas, a sauna and a pool.

We spent the week learning a little Afrikaans at the University of Stellenbosch. The university has debated for the last ten years about the language of instruction. Whether to hold onto the home-language of 60% of the students, Afrikaans, or to work to integrate more English into instruction. We had multiple lecturers at the university about this topic, giving us multiple opinions and perspectives.

We had individuals speak to us about the political and cultural history of the Afrikaners. The Afrikaners held the political power under apartheid, with the Nationalists party in power. We have spent much of the semester learning about the oppressed the black side of the story. South Africans aren’t afraid about talking about race, social class or gender. It was interesting to spend the week learning about the other side. We discussed the politics of apartheid and the ever-changing Afrikaner identity how it has changed in the last 17 years post-democracy.

Stellenbosch’s main industry is wine production. The land is covered in grapes growing in hundreds of extensive vineyards. We toured two wineries while in Stellenbosch: M’Hudi wines and Somes Delta. M’Hudi imports its grapes and has them distilled by a 3rd party. It prides itself in being one of just a few wineries in South Africa that is owned by black owned. While tasting the wines we learned about the history of the company and how it operates today in marketing its unique quality. The following day we visited Somes Delta, a gorgeous vineyard with over hundreds of acres of grapes. We toured the land and learned about their community involvement in making wine. We had an elegant lunch outside while tasting nine of their wines.

Saturday evening a few friends and I took a trip into Cape Town for the 2nd annual Carnival. Long Street, the social center of Cape Town was swarmed with people, dancers, singers and floats. People lined the streets outside the bars and pubs to watch the parade. I met up with two of my Vanderbilt friends and spent much of the night on the roof of a bar, watching as the people below danced and celebrated the arts of Cape Town.


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The Eastern Cape

After our week in Tshabo we spent three days at a backpackers lodge on the coast of the Indian Ocean. We spent the whole weekend under the sun- unwinding and preparing to switch gears for the homestay ahead. The beach was extremely peaceful as we were the only people in sight. We walked the white sandy dunes and saw a spectacular view of the land.

On Saturday we went on a safari game drive! We loaded into open air trucks and headed down the road to the park. We met three elephants who were rescued and fed them. We then met three cheetahs and were able to play with the big cats. It was an unbelievable experience. To be up close to such a fierce and mighty animal was incredible.

We then went on a drive and saw impala, giraffes, warthogs, wildebeests, ostriches and lions. This park is home to 5 white lions, of which there are only 250 in the world.

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Details in the Fabric

A glimpse into the Xhosa lifestyle in Tshabo…

AmaXhosa culture is full of loud singing and energetic dancing. Art is a form of expression that unites the women in Tshabo. Our mama’s and sisis gathered together to give us a glimpse of a traditional performance. One mama would begin singing and within a moment everyone would join in, creating a harmony of voices. They sang with the full power of their lungs- confidently belting out the Xhosa phrases. The dancing was a sequence of unplanned steps, sways and claps. The women were beautifully clothed in traditional skirts, headpieces and beads.

Mama Mqondeni worked for a hotel outside of Tshabo for many years. These days she is retired and living off of her government pension. She speaks no English, except for a word here and there, usually pertaining to food. She is the head of the household and spends her time caring for the 12 members of her family who stay in her home.

Mama in front of our home

Two rooms where my three bhutis live

Mama sorting beans outside the kitchen

Preparing supper for the family

The toilet alongside the garden

View from the backyard

Avile playing in the yard!

Soccer is the national sport of South Africa. It is a universal game that children everywhere from the cities to the townships to the rural pastures love to play. We played in the drizzling rain among the grazing cows. The goal posts were a pair of shoes and an old rugby post. The young children of Tshabo don’t know much English, but in this instance the language barrier came down- our game was full of high-fives and laughs.

Saturday afternoon Kate and I were sitting on the floor at home beading with mama. She was quietly humming to herself and showing us how to create some intricate patterns. Two men welcomed themselves in the home and sat beside us. They began talking to us about religion. We quickly discovered that these two men were missionaries, spreading the word of Jesus Crist. I listened intently making some comparisons between Judaism and their firm Christian beliefs. Kate and I couldn’t help but laugh as these persistent missionaries aimed to convert a Jew and an atheist. They left three hours later, feeling frustrated at their unsuccessful attempt- Little did we know that we’d meet again tomorrow.

We woke early on Sunday morning and in the late morning we left with our sisis and bhutis for church. We lived in Thsabo II, a small area of the village perched on top of a grand hill. The church they attend is in Tshabo I, just across the valley. We began walking before 10am and it wasn’t until 11 that we arrived at church. A tin shack that fit no more than 30 individuals. We filed in the room and took our seats; plastic chairs on a dirt floor. Within minutes the pastors, the men we had met the previous day walked through the door with two giant sub-woofer speakers. These four-foot tall speakers were hooked up to an electric keyboard, that no one knew how to play. The pastors used the microphones to preach and sing in Xhosa for the next few hours. The room was filled with loud and vibrant gospel music and dancing. No prayer books were used, everything was sung from memory. It was a hot but beautiful service.

Our gospel church

Lunge and Leobone, our two companions were full of curiosity and energy. They began learning English in Grade 1 but are very shy when it comes to conversing in English. Therefore, our bonding was through interactions: jumping rope, catching chicken, coloring and playing. Lungie wrote us a card one evening that read: Ndizanikhumbula. Thandiwe no nomhle. Nidyanithanda kakulu. Be kumnandi kakulu. Ukuhlala nannie. Meaning I will write you Thandiwe and Nomhle. I love you a lot. It was nice to say with you.

My Xhosa name is Nomhle, meaning beautiful. I was given this name in Langa by my mama and I have been referred to as Nomhle ever since. In Xhosa culture, calling people by name is a great sign of respect. Ndingu Nomhle igama lam, Ndiyavuya ukukwanzi.

Lunge and Leobone ready for school

Avile, Lunge, Mealie, Leobone

Polishing the floors with cow dung

The most beautiful sunrises and sunsets I’ve seen. Each day turned to night and night to day with a spectacular display of colors in the sky…

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I spent last week in the rural village of Tshabo in the Eastern Cape of SA. The Eastern Cape is the homeland for the amaXhosa. Many families have moved to Cape Town, Jobhannesburg and other cities around the country where they have a house while their home is in the Eastern Cape.

I lived with 13 members of the Mqondeni family. My mama was an elderly woman who received much respect from the community. She looks after her two daughters, nine grandchildren and one great grandchild. Their home is a six-sided room with wooden beams and a tin roof. The family shares five beds, a shushu situation as the temperatures reach up to 35c. The kitchen is in a room just down the path from the bedroom- always smelling of fresh polish and steamed bread.

Tshabo is a village of about 1,000 individuals. The land is vast rolling hills, spotted with grazing livestock. My family owned two cows, three goats, many chickens and a dog named Larry. Mama tends to a vegetable garden daily. She grows mealies, pumpkin, mellon, butternut squash, carrots and cabbage. Each meal was made from the products of the land. Pap and sonke samanzi are the staple foods of Tshabo.

I spent the week sleeping in the pattern of the sun, washing at the tap, speaking xhosa, dancing, playing soccer, jumping rope, watching the sunrise, walking barefoot, chasing chickens around the yard, playing with my little bhutis and the cows & goats, washing dishes with my sisi, watching the stars, singing gospel, fetching water, ‘polishing’ the floors with cow dung, playing crazy 8s, falling asleep to the rain slapping the tin roof, and doing bead-work with mama.

The unemployment rate in Tshabo is staggering- only a lucky few individuals in the village have jobs. In my family of 13, no one is employed. Children under 18 and adults over 65 receive monthly stipends from the government to cover basic necessities. My sisi, Zentu, is learning English in school and was able to explain the village economy. She receives 250 rand per month, the equivalent of $35. Through a conversation with Tata Sizwae, an elderly man who was never seen without his pipe, I discovered a shocking reality. 70% of the population in Tshabo is HIV positive. This deadly disease is cutting short the lives of young people at an alarming rate.

Amidst unemployment and disease there is an abundance of happiness. The people of Tshabo are full of an incredible passion for life. They appreciate the little things and take one day at a time. They’re thankful for what they have- grateful that there is food from the garden to put on the table and a light bulb to illuminate the room in the evenings. There is a peaceful slowness of the village, no need to rush or stress. Although there is no running water, no cars or roads to drive them on, not enough shoes to cover every foot or a stove to cook on… there is so much this village has that is incredibly special. Although I only experienced a glimpse of their culture, I walk away with a full heart and mind.

More writings soon to come, pictures as well. Much to be reflected upon and shared.

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