Wednesday, August 03, 2011

July 2011 update

We’ve just returned to Stellenbosch after a 3 week holiday to Johannesburg and a small stint in Botswana and Zimbabwe (Vic Falls). It was wonderful to spend time with the Jo’burg family from both sides. Although we knew it would be good to have a holiday, we had no idea how much we would need it! We’ve had a tumultuous time in the lead up to our holiday with the sudden decision to move house and a break-in.

So before we went away we packed everything up and moved it out, cleaned the house and left all our things in the garage of the new house. Unfortunately the day before moving we had a break-in – they took the laptop and ipods and a game and some fruit (only in Africa!). We weren’t home at the time and everything was covered by insurance; the only thing that’s irreplaceable are some photos on the laptop we hadn’t transferred over to the PC.

In the end, though, we were blessed to find a lovely house, not too far away – and we were welcomed with opened arms.

It was so good to leave everything behind and go to Jo’burg to relax at Niall’s Aunty’s house on holidays! Although this was still a working holiday for Niall, who was now able to get back into his thesis after a few weeks of disruptions.

The kids had a wonderful time catching up with their second cousins ranging in ages from 1 to 18 and lots of aunts and uncles around to keep them entertained. Connor is very close in age to Luke and they got on like a house on fire, riding bikes and scooters and playing soccer and computer games. Laura was adored by the younger girls and mostly happily played with whoever was around (interspersed with escaping to read or do some cross-stitch).

We had a few day trips around Jo’burg, seeing Gold Reef City’s old gold mine and of course going on the theme park rides, dinners out with family, and then a few days at Bela Bela (Warm Baths) where they had waterslides and swimming pools with warm spring water. Bela Bela is a small town about 1.5 hours north of Jo’burg. It was interesting to see what ready-made food they sold at the grocery shop for the locals – lots of pap (like mashed potato, but made of white maize (mealies)), chicken livers and other things I couldn’t work out. We stayed in a lovely B&B – it wasn’t very busy so they gave us 2 rooms instead of 1 (bliss!). On the way home we stopped for lunch in Pretoria overlooking the beautiful gardens and the city. Lovely weather!

The exciting part of the trip was our holiday to Vic Falls and Chobe. We flew from Jo’burg to Livingstone in Zambia. Then we drove for an hour and took a boat to Kasane in Botswana, which is just over the border from Zambia. We stayed at a hotel just outside of the Chobe National Park for 3 nights with all breakfasts and dinners included – so much food! We decided to take it easy the first day after all the travel and time at border crossings (we had been in 3 countries that day already!). The next day we took a morning game drive with another Australian family (from QLD). We saw heaps of game – elephants, rhino, hippos, impala, antelope, monitors, giraffe, crocodiles, but no cats or dogs. It was lovely. We were driven right along the river so we could see the beautiful water and the animals coming down. That afternoon we had a sunset cruise (which we repeated the following day) where we could see the animals coming into the water to drink and swim and play. So many amazing birds, like the Snake bird, which swims with its body underwater, but it’s head above, hence looking like a snake swimming in the water. The second day we saw a baby hippo swimming with its family, a baby elephant crossing with its mother in deep water piggy back style and crocodile snapping and thrashing in the water near our boat and the most gorgeous African sunset. Our third day was also Connor’s 7th birthday so we spent quite a while building his new lego, a short swim (it was a bit cold in!), shopped in town (a short walk away) and then enjoyed a lovely rendition of happy birthday by the staff at the restaurant – he was a bit shy, but coped with the attention well!

Then we drove back through to Zimbabwe where we experienced the African style of border crossings – slow and tedious! But we got through and made our way to the Elephant Hills Resort overlooking Victoria Falls. We decided to wait until the second day to venture into the actual falls after the tiring travel! The resort had lots of game on the golf courses, and the monkeys and baboons come right up to your room (even the 4th floor) looking for food – they can push open doors!

The main thing we remember about this visit is that we got absolutely saturated! There is a lot of water in the falls and you go really close to them. Luckily it was a warmish day so we could dry out as we were absolutely sodden through even with a rain coat on! But it was amazing. Unfortunately we had to wait 2 hours for our next bus home to get changed, but enjoyed a lovely afternoon tea at a local café in the sun. For dinner we tried Mama Africa’s restaurant where we were serenaded by a local group of men who sang and danced traditional African dances – Fi even got roped in to dance with them.

We then enjoyed a few more days back in Jo’burg seeing the family before we headed back to beautiful Stellenbosch. We had originally planned the holiday to escape the wet Cape winter – but Stellenbosch hardly had any rain the whole holiday and was actually much warmer than Jo’burg! Next morning we moved into our new house and quickly unpacked and have settled in. It’s been a week since we moved in and the kids are very happy.

We have a new dog, Dottie, who loves the kids to bits. The house is very comfy and has a pool, pool table, ping pong table, piano (thankyou God!), and fully furnished. It’s a 3 bedroom house with a separate 4th bedroom and ensuite outside (for visitors!) and 3 outdoor covered areas including a lovely upstairs braai area with a mountain outlook. What more could we want? Our landlords are lovely and we’re looking forward to staying here for the next 6 months. Next housewarming, here we come!

On the thesis front, Niall has submitted his first draft. Things are progressing very fast! Fi is still looking for work, but has had a great conversation with a company here – unfortunately just no work at present!

But we do have to count our many blessings - we have been blessed with a new house, fast progression of Niall’s thesis, a scholarship for Niall (which helps us financially) and lots of wonderful friends – and lots of family coming to visit from Australia later in the year – yay! The kids are happily back at school and we’re settling back into life again. Pray for us as we continue to search for God’s plan for us and seek to do God’s will.

May 2011 update

May has been a month of glorious weather, interspersed with some cold snaps and a few bucketing downpours of rain. We've enjoyed some lovely walks as a family, and Niall has gone up with some friends up Stellenbosch Mountain. The kids are getting really good on their bikes, often accompanying Niall on long rides, and even Fiona has started to get back on the bike (Laura's so far – yet to progress to the big bike!).

Both kids are enjoying hockey at school – Laura is on the Under 10s team and has played one inter-school match so far. Laura had a class excursion to the Helderberg Nature Reserve, which Niall and Fi accompanied to help with transport. They learnt all about the fynbos (pron. Fainboss) and how rich it is in lots of plant species and explored the nature reserve as they learnt about their environment.

We've been getting more involved at church – Niall helping with Sunday School classes and Fi leading singing for the kids. Niall does regular trips to Kayamundi to deliver food boxes to needy families in the black community and is going to help deliver soup as well.

We've continued to enjoy sharing our hospitality with many new friends and now established friends. Niall has become a real pro at the braai and can expertly cook any meat, including fish! We continue to have some problems with house maintenance issues, especially the leaking roof, and hope this will be fixed soon by the owner.

Fiona is still hoping to find work. Meanwhile, she is keeping busy with walking/jogging, SPICE group (spouses of international students), singing lessons and choir and now Afrikaans classes. Fi has been selected to do two solos in her choir concert, singing solo Pie Jesu in Durufle's Requiem and a trio in Rutter's Gloria. A great opportunity!

Niall is working hard on his thesis, already finished the first chapter and well into the second chapter.

We're looking forward to the school holidays at the end of June to get away from the cold and possibly wet weather in the Cape, and head to Johannesburg and Vic Falls.

Hope you are all well. Keep us updated with your news.

The McKays