Maura, the boss of “Bob’s Bunkhouse“ takes me to the airport and drops me off at the domestic flights terminal. A warm hug, the best of wishes and a “see you soon!“ – in a month, Maura will pick me up right here. Hopefully, I’ll be able to tell her about the success of my project.
I anticipate problems with my luggage because it’s too heavy. On both of my Lufthansa trips, my free luggage was 23kg each, which I made full use of. South African Airlines, however, only allows 20kg of free luggage for domestic flights. Never in my life have I had so much luggage – but my rucksack is full of small shirts, dresses, skirts, trousers, hats, a little football world champion pullover and a hello kitty swimsuit. Go on, have a laugh: “Ivan is into skirts and dresses and only wears skin-tight clothes“ – of course that’s nonsense, you fool! All those things aren’t meant for me, but for the poor kids in Fobeni Village. My nieces and nephews had, commendably, raided their closets and drawers and found what felt like 10 tons of clothes that they didn’t need any more. About 10 kilos of which I am able to stuff into my rucksack, the rest will go to refugees in Germany.
At the check-in, I’m in luck again. The lady at the luggage drop-off is paying no attention to the rucksack’s weight – she is far more preoccupied with chatting and smiling sweetly. She would also love to travel with just her rucksack, and I wish her all the best in fulfilling that wish soon. My rucksack falls from the scale and onto the conveyor and I feel relieved. I thank the chatty miss and make my way to the gate.
A bus takes us to the small plane. Having arrived there, we are, however, not permitted to leave the bus. After five minutes of waiting, we are told that this machine will not be leaving today, due to technical problems. So the bus takes us back to the gate. Luckily, Johannesburg Airport is the hub for South African Airlines, so there is bound to be a spare plane waiting in a hangar. And – surprise – there is! It takes less than an hour to get the replacement plane ready and load our luggage – and us – on board.
The flight takes a mere 45 minutes from Johannesburg to Hoedspruit. During the landing approach, I already spy my first wild animals in Africa: Baboons (an especially cheeky kind of monkey) and a warthog, without a care in the world, are promenading along the runway.
I am greeted by two charming ladies. Jacky and Amilia work for Tshega and take care of the volunteers with whom they share accomodation. Before heading to this accomodation, we take a little detour to the school at which I will be working for the next few weeks. Luckily, I can spot more wildlife on the way: not far from the road, a herd of elephants are splashing around at a watering hole. What a sight!
Having arrived at the school, I can finally see the construction site, which, in the near future, will form a new tract with three classrooms. The commission for the expansion by FLY & HELP is the primary reason why I’m here. All supporters, partners of and all interested in FLY & HELP can keep track of the construction on my blog.
There is a small conference going on at school: Parent representatives, teachers and employees of Tshega are recapping the last year, finding compromises and discussing problems and solutions.
Shortly after our arrival on the school premises, the conference ends and a woman, warmly smiling, comes from one of the buildings. Finally I get to know Ellanie van Rooyen in person. Ellanie is the head and the heart of Tshega. She is also the one who lets the volunteers live in a neighbouring compound on her property. Her incredibly positive aura captivates me right away. Ellanie asks us to load our things on our minibus so we can make for her property, surrounded by a beautiful orange farm. Furthermore she asks me to ride shotgun so we can talk a bit.
After about 20 minutes of driving, we arrive at her farmhouse. Apart from me, three ladies and “our son“ live there. Jacky and Amilia, who picked me up at the airport, I already mentioned. The third lady is a dutchwoman named Lida, who started her voluntary work here some days ago. And “our son“ is actually just Jacky’s son. He’s ten years old and his name is Kean.
First of all, I get my room ready. It is intended for 2 people, which I couldn’t be happier with. Two beds (one instantly becomes a wardrobe) four walls, a large window and a ceiling with a fan dangling from it. What more do I need? Jacky takes me around the house, explains how we live and work together. I pick up constant good vibes, and from word go, I feel very comfortable here.
As I take some time to look around the property on my own, I feel even more joy: Childhood memories of our little farm in the Soviet Union resurface: The dusty roads, huts, sheds, an old tractor and so much space. Marvellous! During the rainy summer, even the hot and arid north of South Africa is in bloom – I get to marvel at the beautiful garden populated by countless chickens.
It is then that I meet Sophia, Jacky’s dog. I instantly fall in love. There are several dogs apart from Sophia roaming the property. For example, there’s Ellanie’s Ridgeback lady, who’s nearly as large as a pony, as her race was bred for game and lion hunting… Ellanie’s brown Dachshund, who looks like a scale miniature of a dog next to the Ridgeback. And there is also the neighbors one-eyed Jack Russel, who, on occasion, strolls over the yard. He became a cyclops whilst trying to slay a porcupine. But golden Sophia, with the huge, well-healed cut above her left eye, is my favourite.
We develop a strong affinity to each other from the start. Our relationship even has passionate jealousy issues. As soon as she sees me petting another dog, she jumps between us and butts the competition away, or even steps on him and demands my undivided attention.
I could stay here, I like it! And if the kids don’t start hating me tomorrow for no apparent reason, I’m as content as I could be.