Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is a beautiful time of year where we are all reminded to be thankful. I love autumn because of the changing colours and sense of transition that it entails. I hate that it means the weather is going to grow colder! . IMG_3844 IMG_3840IMG_3831

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So to embrace the inevitable we decided to head north for Thanksgiving and spend time with the kids’ great-grandparents at their remote ranch.

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We always love our time at the ranch spending precious moments with my grandparents, enjoying the wide open spaces, free-range play and all the animals!

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We were able to maintain a good school routine at the ranch and kept up our math and journals during our time away.

In the past couple of weeks we have had our skating lessons. The kids are really enjoying the lessons and are developing their endurance during the one hour recreation skate afterwards.

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E will perform her group piece at Worship Dance next week and is preparing to auction for the church Christmas play.

In Co-op the kids had a great week reading All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan.

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They spent time talking about important places to their family and are now writing individual books about the meaningful places in their lives.  They have been doing lots of work on structures at STEM camp and at Community Connections they are learning how to paint with an airbrush and are working on still life painting. E is learning about the human brain and is examining the similarities and differences between her life in Canada and the life of a girl growing up in Uganda. D is working on poetry and learning about the seasons. They are both learning movement skills in the PE time.

We also received the link for the documentary we participated in. We show up at 11:24 in Part 1 and if you are interested, you can view it here: http://www.fairchildtv.com/newsarchive_detail.php?n=27&topic=330&episode=609

We are thankful this week for our loving immediate and extended family, wonderful learning community, our friends and the beautiful country we live in. We are truly blessed.

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Metamorphosis

How do you respond to changing seasons? We are experiencing change in many seasons right now; the weather in SA  is shifting from summer to autumn, our family is preparing to return to life in Canada and our children are changing and growing in so many ways. I have to admit, I’m not always good at change. I love going new places, meeting new people and having new experiences… within a controlled, predictable and generally reliable context. For example going on a holiday to the beach, staying in a nice hotel and eating great food is always a fun change. However, I know I will come back to my known life at the end of the holiday. As we begin our transition out of SA back to CA, I am faced with the great  unknown again. I have to say good-bye to the wonderful friends we’ve made, the beautiful country and the warm sunny climate. I am excited to return to family and friends but also nervous about re-entry into our life there. The kid’s friends will have new social dynamics, my friends will have their own routines and we will be coming back to rainy days and a big house to clean. First world problems entirely, but this blog is where I share our joys and struggles and we are at a bittersweet time right now caught between changing worlds.

We are always ready to go out and enjoy the local fauna and flora. This is a local Cheetah breeding project. We went on a tour of the Cheetah enclosures and listened to the tour guide tell us about Cheetah breeding habits and what factors most seem to determine their survival and ability to thrive in the wild.IMG_0300 The beautiful King Cheetah is a  rare recessive genetic colour pattern. We found out that the reason they are so rare is twofold; first of all they only occur when a mating pair each carry the recessive gene, and secondly this pattern does not actually camouflage as well with the landscape so consequently they are usually unable to hunt as well or are more easily spotted by other predators such as hyaenas.IMG_0292To compare the two here is a typical cheetah colour pattern.IMG_0305D has been taking tennis lessons much to his delight.IMG_0278He loves the activity and even more, loves his friends K and C who are in the same class.IMG_0282 We made our monthly rounds of the zoo for E’s honey badgers program. It was a cold rainy day this week so we spent a bit of time hiding under the umbrellas at the cafe…IMG_0359 …with hot chocolate of course!IMG_0332Despite the rain the animals were out and about and we had some great viewing of animals we don’t always see on sunny days.IMG_0382E’s s group stayed mostly indoors learning about bats and doing more paper-based tasks.IMG_0391E practised her reading aloud with some story time for the younger kids.IMG_0412Our beautiful sweet potato vine is finally living outdoors in a pot.IMG_0442This is the jungle gym  at our house and in all this rain we have to get out and play whenever the sun comes out for a few minutes.IMG_0452

We have been so blessed in our time here in SA. We’ve connected with a vibrant and diverse homeschooling community with many social learning opportunities as well as just making great friends. We did an art co-op with another family this week.IMG_0518 Who doesn’t love to play with finger paint??IMG_0525 IMG_0529 Tying into our pioneer/voortrekker theme we have been working on an multidicipinary project; a paper quilt using symmetry, geometry colour, pattern and line. I explained to the children that pioneers were very frugal and because they couldn’t always buy new things they learned to make most items for themselves. They used small scraps of fabric to make quilts out of whatever they had. The use of pattern was a way to beautify their simple, rustic homes and express their own creativity. It also gave them an activity to fill their time during long evenings or days indoors during winter. IMG_0533 We went to our last homeschool skating time 😦 IMG_0543 One of the highlights at skating is hot chips with lots of tomato sauce or as we would say in Canada; fries smothered in ketchup!IMG_0547 Ending our week we had a joint dinner with two families who have been dear friends to us here. Between our families we represent, British SA, Afrikaans SA, Italy, England and of course Canada.IMG_0557 The 3 musketeers!IMG_0578 And what dinner party would be complete without Kareoke? C rocked out the Afrikaans alt/country beat!IMG_0592 Sweet A singing a beautiful rendition of Norah JonesIMG_0614 Me pretending to a be an 80s rock star with Summer of 69, LOL!IMG_0615A mother-daughter moment with Abba!IMG_0621 These times together have been rich. full of laughter, heart sharing, growing and simply sharing our lives together. This morning we slept in after the late night last night and I watched E and her dad cuddle at the breakfast table  with a full heart. This life I have is so good! How can I measure the value of these days? The answer is that I simply can’t, these moments are priceless. Today is Sunday and I am counting the 1000+ gifts in my life and feeling profoundly grateful. IMG_0639Change will happen and we will adjust and choose gratitude wherever we find ourselves.

Holidays, Holy Days and Resolutions

Happy New Year! What brave new worlds lie ahead for you in 2014?IMG_8206

We have just come back from a fabulous holiday around the central and east part of SA. December was a whirlwind of activities and explorations. We enjoyed a mini-week at a reserve called the Pilanesberg where game sightings were abundant and our family was able to spend some quality time together. IMG_7692 IMG_7762 IMG_7770 IMG_7772 IMG_7805 IMG_7832Then Christmas was spent braaiing (outdoor BBQ meals), playing in pools and visiting with friends. It was a blur as we returned from the Pilanesberg on the 22 and then had to finish getting ready for Christmas. We began a new tradition this year with the children making their gifts for each other. E found and printed  pictures of characters from a game D likes on the internet. She then painstakingly glued them to cardboard, cut them out and decoupaged them into action figures D could play with. D browsed the internet with me and selected the idea of creating a Horse sock puppet for E. He helped sew buttons on for the eyes and yarn for the hair. It was great practise for his fine motor skills and creativity!IMG_8992 On Christmas Eve the children all acted out the Christmas Story for the adults. They did a very good job with E and her friend C actually creating a script from their bibles that included a portion of the magnificat. E was the angel Gabriel and took her role very seriously. IMG_8109 IMG_8106The boys were sheep and shepherds and although a bit silly they managed to do their part. Boxing day we packed our car and after a delay waiting for AAA to come and give us a boost, we were off to explore the beautiful Drakensberg Mountains. IMG_8214We enjoyed some lovely hiking, gourmet meals, swimming in the Cascades which is a series of natural pools and low waterfalls and capping it off with a night at an historic site from the Anglo-Boer War called Spionkop. This battle is of particular interest as it was a phenomenal failure of the British and a false victory for the Boers. There were also several prominent historical figures present such as; Winston Churchill who was there as a courier and war correspondent, Robert Baden-Powell, a commander, and Mahandas Ghandi who was a stretcher-bearer! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Spionkop)IMG_8307IMG_8342

We spent our last morning in the mountains at the Kwa Cheetah Breeding Project on the Nambiti Private Game Reserve.(http://www.cheetahinteraction.com) The program director explained that Cheetahs are actually more endangered than rhinos. Sadly they are killed for their beautiful fur and are suffering from encroachment on their natural habitats.IMG_8422

There was also a tame meerkat on the property that named Zulu. She was very friendly (especially to girls) and spent quite a bit of time cuddled up with E and I.IMG_8471

The really funny thing about Zulu though, is that she helped foster a wounded cub in the breeding program. The cub, named Yakira, had been stepped on by her mother when she was 4 days old which broke her shoulder. As Cheetahs rely on their speed and agility to hunt, she could never survive in the wild so the program hand-raised her and she is now their tame mascot. I don’t know if there has or ever will be again a cheetah that behaves like a meerkat but this was definitely a sight to behold! 🙂IMG_8477

She was a very calm animal and although we didn’t let little S wander about on his own, she was purring and enjoyed being petted by the visitors. IMG_8480

From the rainy, cool mountain heights in the “Berg”as it is affectionately called, we drove around the edge of Lesotho and descended 1600m to the Indian Ocean. IMG_8519We spent 4 wonderful days with dear friends in Ballito playing at the beach, trying local cuisine and most importantly reconnecting with these special people. We celebrated the New Year with them, eating, laughing, swimming and dancing the night and the old year away. IMG_8546It was a poignant moment at midnight to be with these treasured friends from our past singing Auld Lang Syne together and welcoming the promise of a new year.IMG_8545We reluctantly repacked our car to head out on the final leg of our journey. Our destination was Hluehluwe/ St. Lucia, the oldest game reserve in SA, located in the northern Natal, also called Zululand. Unfortunately, Hluehluwe was a bit of a bust with mediocre accommodation, expensive park fees, and difficult terrain for game spotting. Our final day at St. Lucia, however, was incredible. We signed up for an all- day safari that included game drive through the wetlands, snorkelling at Cape Vidal and finished with a Hippo and Croc boat cruise in the estuary. It was a truly epic day and redeemed our frustrating time at Hluehluwe. St. Lucia is a laid back holiday village filled with B&Bs, self-catering cottages/ apartments and restaurants. It is also a world heritage site with an estuary and inland lake that stretches for 350km and is home to literally thousands of Nile Crocodiles and Hippos. (http://www.isimangaliso.com/index.php) The governments of  SA, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zimbabwe(?) have agreed to create a new protected corridor by 2020 extending from ISimangaliso Park north to Mozambique and Zimbabwe which will allow indigenous animals to migrate from the dry savannah to the coastal regions and back again. It’s inspiring to hear the pride in the rangers voices as they talk about this ambitious project and I can’t help but be proud of the African people for showing this commitment to protecting their beautiful land and animals!

Painted Reed Frogs:IMG_8614 Giant KingfisherIMG_8685  SnorkelingIMG_8646 IMG_8672 Can you spot the crocs?IMG_8987IMG_8828These are hippo teeth!IMG_8824A gorgeous tropical sunset.IMG_8906My final day in St. Lucia started with a walking bird safari at the crack of dawn. We have all developed an interest in birding since being here and are amazed at the diversity and beauty of the birds we have seen. This is a Southern Red Bishop Weaver:IMG_8239Blue-Cheeked Bee-EaterIMG_8978Brimstone CanaryIMG_8990We are now settling back into our house and routine and are moving boldly forward into whatever the new year brings. We have resolved as a family to keeping better track of our working time and to be more mindful of the way we speak to each other. We also intend to be more disciplined in our health routines and achieve a better lifestyle in the coming year.

Do you make resolutions? What is your greatest success story?

Work and Play in the RSA

It is really amazing how we have been able to plug in to various programs going on in our neighbourhood! We are right around the corner from a Christian school which is supportive of homeschooling. They have a set fee for allowing homeschool kids to participate in extra-curricular activities. E has joined the sports program and gets swimming and tennis lessons 4 days a week.IMG_6184

On Tuesday we had the great pleasure of a fantastic tea and luncheon with dear friends that we met in Canada but  have since moved back here to SA. They were so hospitable and really rolled out the red carpet for us. It was so nice to sit and talk and talk and talk…! I hope C’s ears didn’t wear out as I think I did most of the talking! The boys have grown so much since the last time we saw them that the kids didn’t really recognize each other. They took a bit longer to reconnect but in the end they had a great time.IMG_6158IMG_6159With mixed feelings we participated in a “Hallelujah” party at the school. Mixed feelings because it is sort of sad to see how much American culture pervades the world and how Halloween is creeping in everywhere. We were glad to participate in the community aspect of the event and of course the kids are always happy when there is candy being handed out! As we didn’t expect to have Halloween here we didn’t have any costume stuff. The boys were happy to wear their new hooded towels though 🙂

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E wanted to be more creative and had the original idea of our family of 5 each wearing a mask and going as the “Big 5” the South African grouping of the top big African animals: Lion, Elephant, Rhino, Leopard and Cape Buffalo. Since the boys wanted to wear their towels she went ahead as the … can you guess? 🙂IMG_6192

S is a pirate of course!IMG_6200

E and her friend C posing for the camera

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Daddy got into the act dressing as … a tourist!IMG_6207

And I joined in with a very simple costume for my part of the big 5. My mom loves rhinos because they are a great example of persrverance in the face of opposition, so this one’s for you mom!IMG_6212

We bought a beautiful Alphabet book featuring African animals for each letter and a kid -friendly recipe.Photo on 2013-11-05 at 7.45 AM

The kids really enjoy reading this book and wanted to start in on the recipes this week so we made:IMG_6221 IMG_6222We also made Buffalo bruschetta and are planning some Giraffe giggles as well 🙂

E is really enjoying reading and writing and was so pleased to get a letter from a friend back home that she went straight to her room and spent an hour writing a long reply!Photo on 2013-11-05 at 8.27 AM

She is making good progress with her Singapore Math 2A book working on place value which we started this week. I had a bit of a panic working on 2 digit subtraction with her a couple of weeks ago and thought we needed to back way up in our learning to review place value. She spent some time doing Math iXL and seems to be up to speed again for the moment. Whew! It is also really helpful that the local currency, the Rand is converts approximately 10 rand to 1 Canadian dollar. I often ask Eva to convert when we are buying groceries and sundries then discuss if it is more or less than we pay at home. Imported items tend to be quite expensive here. For example to buy a box of Cheerios might cost R89 for a 400g box. At home the same box of Cheerios might be $4 or less on sale. It is a great jumping off point for understanding global commerce and learning to buy locally.

We bought an app on the recommendation of a friend called “dragon box” but although it’s supposed to be a great math app we can’t really figure it out. Anybody out there wanna clue us in?

In our spelling and grammar book she has been working on identifying proper and common nouns and using correct pronouns.

D is trying to learn to print the lower case letters as his nursery school is quite particular about the children learning lower case first. He is also working on his pencil grip and training his observational skills in sketching.

When the weekend arrives Daddy is free and so we get to explore! It is funny that when we put on our tourist hats we start discovering  things around the area that our friends who were born here have never seen. I think it is exactly the nature of being a tourist that makes us want to get out and see as much as we can. We have fewer social demands on our time so are more free to go out and do things with just our nuclear family. This weekend we went to a miniature Las  Vegas called Montecasino and enjoyed the feeling of an Italian village and the Bird Gardens. First stop, the Rainbow Lorikeets (from Australia).

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These are a couple of glossy starlings again, i think you can see their fantastic colouring much better here.IMG_6355

Inside the casino:IMG_6374 IMG_6379We had a fabulous supper at a restaurant chain called The Meat Company where J and I ordered Kudu steaks!  (below is a picture of a kudu taken in our first week here in the Limpopo province.)IMG_5321

On Sunday we attended a second time at a new church that is part of an organization called Church of the Nations. It was Orphan Sunday and we found out that the church is closely involved/ administrates? an orphanage on the same street. They always have scones and coffee after the service (the real reason we go 🙂  we sat down at a table full of kids and one adorable little boy sat on my lap for the whole time. We realized at the end of the coffee time that they were all children from the orphanage and were humbled by their simple joy and grace in living life without a family.

After church we rested then decided to go out for a hike at a new nature reserve. The animals at this reserve were a bit more exciting to us Canucks.

WIldebeest

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Zebra

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A Blesbok AntelopeIMG_6423This is an unhappy S with ants in his pants! He is always fascinated by the hordes of ants scurrying around their anthills and consequently usually gets a few running up his legs as well.IMG_6436

Then further along the trail we met this fellow rambler.IMG_6444 IMG_6452

Every hike should end with swinging on somebody else’s arms!IMG_6463

In total we walked about 5km. D is still working on his stamina and at the end of the day he was tired but happy with the outing. IMG_6471The weather is getting warmer as we move from spring to summer and we’re planning some bigger outings in December. Hope to get some beach pics before too long 🙂

Finding Our Way

First to apologize for the delay on this post. It turns out my computer doesn’t like the number of pictures I’ve been taking and forcing it to store, as a result I have been negotiating with the mac-no-brain and trying to troubleshoot the problem. 🙂

This week was full of fun and learning. E and D are getting the swing of how things work  in Africa. D has begun to adopt the accent and E is determined to learn Afrikaans! It is fun watching them adapt to their new environment and accept the differences from what they’re used to.

It helps that we have this lovely pool around the corner from our house!

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And D loves playball, a mixed sports group that he participates in after nursery school once a week.IMG_2618

Then there are the trips to the shopping centres, restaurants and general fun out and abouting that we get to do.IMG_2658

I think it would be difficult for them not to enjoy themselves given the glorious weather and fantastic people here. We have tried to prioritize weekends for some family time and broader exploration so on Saturday we went for a hike at a nearby nature reserve. We saw some kind of bok (deer), and many colourful birds. This is a glossy starling. IMG_6090

They had an interactive model of the solar system showing the scale of the different planets and here the kids are enjoying climbing into the “sun”. IMG_6095
The anthills are always facinating as they are so huge! We often see both the closed and open variety and we had a good discussion of which animals would likely be in the area that would eat ants. They have pangolins ,(http://www.krugerpark.co.za/africa_pangolin.html), and aardvarks, (http://www.diffen.com/difference/Aardvark_vs_Anteater), here so it is fun to try and identify spoor and discuss the possibilities.

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jWe primarily chose this site to explore because of its proximity but once there discovered that it was also the original site of the first gold strike in SA. Now that’s a whole pile of history and social issues that we haven’t gotten into with the kids yet!!! This country has such an intricately woven tapestry of stories and we hope to at least learn with our children to identify the different threads and try and understand how the past of this place deeply affects the present. IMG_6114

We are fortunate to be here, and even more so to be here as Canadians with our strange accent that causes people to ask us where we are from constantly. We are spared the tensions that others who are born here experience daily as they struggle with ever-changing political and economic system. To have dark skin may be an advantage in the professional world, however, many black South Africans are still trapped in the endless cycle of poverty, overcrowding, poor education and violence while white South Africans largely enjoy a higher standard of living. This is of course tied to history and geo-politics of the 20th century. E and I are beginning a  research project to learn more about Apartheid and what actually happened. We have the opportunity of collecting primary research through interviews and museums and we want to genuinely understand the emotional climate that we find ourselves in.IMG_6123

South Africans, black and white alike, share some amazing values that are demonstrated by the meerkats. These meerkats (sorry I just cant get enough of these guys :), have amazing family ties and community relationships. The adults are all extremely protective of their young and despite their small size they can defend themselves against deadly snakes and larger predators by using their god-given abilities and working together. IMG_6148One of the strongest first impressions I had of South African culture is the way it values children. I was struck by how many terms of endearments people used with their children and how rarely I heard a parent rebuke their child. If the child was acting inappropriately the parents were often firm but gentle and constantly reaffirmed the child’s value even as they corrected them. I have to admit that I am not a patient parent and so I was really convicted as I saw this patience and acceptance of children here. I have so much hope for this country that a collection of people who value their children and can show so much kindness to these little ones, can somehow find a way to show kindness to each other as adults too!

 

Getting our Game on

Life here is starting to get hectic as we plug in with so many great opportunities around us! E and I did Christmas shopping on Monday to send a parcel with our friend who was flying to the US this week. It was fun to pick out special items for our family and to be done the majority of my Christmas shopping at such an early stage! 🙂Image

The following day E was able to join in with a local program called Honey Badgers at the zoo. IMG_5712

One of the many things this group does is participate in the care of the animals and so with the proper safety precautions, (the keepers put the animals into the locked section of their enclosures), E was able to make a fruit/bamboo kebab for the baboons then the kids were allowed into the enclosure to hide the food for the baboons to find.IMG_5727 IMG_5724

IMG_5746And this is why the baboons needed to be locked up before the kids were allowed in, check out the canines on this big boy!!! The baboon below is the dominant male in the Hamydras baboon troop. We learned that the male Chacma or Cape baboons actually have longer canines than a lion, YIKES!!! IMG_5718E had a great time connecting with her new friends from ice-skating and seeing the zoo. She listened to a presentation on owls and was able to observe a Southern White-faced Scops owl close up then followed up with a short research assignment about South African owls. (For more info check out this website: http://www.owlpages.com/owls.php?genus=Ptilopsis&species=granti )IMG_5893

Here are E and her new friends posing with… can you figure out what kind of skull this is?IMG_5843

The flora and fauna here is lovely and exotic to our Canadian eyes!  This flower is called Buddleja, and is indigenous to South AfricaIMG_5866

These meerkats were vigilant in their guard duty!IMG_5828

E also joined the sports program at a Christian school around the corner from our house. She will be swimming and playing tennis 4 days a week for the school terms that we are here for. She enjoys it immensely and the pool has a lovely baby pool where the kiddos can splash about after lessons. We are continuing with our math and language programs in the mornings but our science and socials has really been exploring our new environment.

We wrapped up our week with a trip to another homeschooler gathering at the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens. It was a beautiful day with new families to meet. IMG_5936What fun is it to explore a garden without getting dirty in the process?IMG_5987

And again, the flora and fauna here is just stunning! We have yet to find out what kind of bird and butterfly these are.IMG_5961IMG_6008

South Africa is a place of such beauty in landscape and people. We are all learning so much and enjoying the journey!IMG_5908

This is Africa…

This past week began with a dramatic medical incident, I was preparing lunch for myself and 6 children and neatly cut off the tip of my finger with a new knife. I spent Monday afternoon getting my fingertip reattached and witnessing the surgical talents of my new friend who is a typical SA GP. It is healing  beautifully and we are beginning to learn our way in this place we currently call home.

We are living in an affluent suburb of Johannesburg and enjoying making new friends and deepening our friendship with our South African hosts. Our residence is lovely and we have a great mall nearby and all the conveniences of home at our fingertips.IMG_0152We were using a  KIA van last week that was rented to us by a friend but it had an oil leak and is in the garage so we’ve had to adjust to driving this instead 🙂  Driving on the other side of the road is beginning to feel more natural and those right turns are getting a bit less scary.IMG_0155

However, there is another side of South Africa and we are not blind to it. We have seen the poor on street corners and lying under the shade in the parks. We have learned to live with an awareness of the dangers around us and to be suspicious of anyone who would try to approach our car or home. We have learned how to enter a driveway safely and which neighbourhoods to avoid driving through. The children have had a greater number of bad dreams as their little sub-concsious minds wrestle with the realities of these dangers. We have to tell them constantly that they must not roll down the windows, they must never open the gate, they must never leave our sight in a public place and they must never tell anyone details about themselves. We have had to explain that there are robbers who would steal our belongings and robbers who steal children. It is sad to tear away the thin veil of their innocence but essential for their own safety that they understand!IMG_4989 My wonderful husband had the opportunity to attend a big rugby match on Saturday between the SA Springboks and the NZ All Blacks. It was a great game with an old rivalry creating intense energy between players and fans alike. The hubs enjoyed it thoroughly but then the other side of Africa asserts itself.  As they were driving home they made a wrong turn and accidentally drove through a neighbourhood colloquially called Death Valley. J said there was a recent shooting victim laying on the road and police attending the scene. They kept driving and got out onto the main highway as quickly as they could. Monday we heard that our new domestic helper was ill and would be unable to come in this week, this morning we were shocked and greatly saddened  to find out that she has passed away. There is no word yet as to what kind of illness took her life so suddenly. She was only 28 years old and leaves behind 2 children! As my dear friend shared the terrible news with me she looked at me with great sadness in her eyes and said, “this is Africa”.

And so I write about my learning journey with the kids last week. The curriculum calls it Health and Career: injury prevention and personal safety, Social Studies: communities, and global economics, Math: money, comparing quantities and addition and subtraction. We call it “life in Africa” and the sad reality of 2 less humans in the world this week. RIP Anna and the nameless others whose lives are snuffed out too early.

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