Thursday, December 17, 2009


Now that everyone is on holiday break here in South Africa, all of the students on campus are gone. In fact, almost everyone living on campus is gone. For the first time since arriving in South Africa, I’m enjoying solitude.

Native South Africans that I’ve encountered are worried about my staying alone (as are fellow PC volunteers and family members back home) and are baffled at my happiness in doing so. I enjoy time by myself and have had very little of it since arriving in Africa. I am finally getting to untangle some of my jangled nerves and the solitude feels like a healing balm.

But what I like best about it, is that I’m learning--and have time to learn--to fall in love with my surroundings.

Each evening, to get the best benefit from the South African sunset, I’m taking long, leisurely strolls about the campus. I’m not a good judge of distance, size, etc., so I can’t tell you exactly how large the grounds are.

But I’m thrilled to discover that I have several kinds of ecosystems here, all due to leaks in water lines, I’m sure. At first I was horrified in thinking about the wasted water, and am still horrified at the waste, but have come to appreciate my water-based habitats.
These shots don't show great perspective, but for all of the shots with the water tank, the line of brown grasses in the background: these grasses are at least 20 feet tall. That whole area is a wet marshy area that I watch well from a distance. (Snakes, anyone?)

Having these different habitats about allows me to find different kinds of animal, plant, and bird species to see, depending on where I am standing on campus. If I want a change of scenery, I just move to a different spot.

For example, from my dorm window, since it faces a soccer field and there are few trees, I find lots of birds that like open areas: bulbuls, barbets, crowned lapwings, sparrows, and helmeted shrike. And of course, the African pidgins are always sitting on top of me, roosting in the rafters.

In the evenings, when I head back to the water habitat by the water tank, I see heron, mouse birds, egrets, and other water-loving birds that I don’t normally see out front.

When I move away from the water-fed overgrowth, but am still behind the campus and near another open area, but with trees and a gorge (a dry gorge—called a donga, which is created from soil erosion), I find my beloved waxbills and hoopoes, weaver birds, and the like.

When I curve around into the campus proper where all of the pepper trees are, I can sit and watch all of the different kinds of birds that like to feed on the ground and in the dust, but like the protection of nearby trees as well. I see swallows and ground scraper thrushes here.

We have a great black crowned heron here. I’m sure he is king of the campus. When I first arrived, it heartened me to see him, because I thought, “Ah, there is a body water nearby.” (Just about everything in my world can be “wrong,” but all is righted if there is a body of water nearby.)

I first noticed him one morning as I was staring out my window. He flew in from the south (from behind the campus) and landed right in the middle of the community garden. I remember thinking, “He is a fishing bird; what is he doing in the middle of the garden?” And, will the farmers appreciate his presence among their vegetables?

A few days later, I visited the garden to investigate. Sure enough, there is a leak in the waterworks in the garden and the leak is substantial enough to have caused a little wetland. I’m sure the heron comes to feed on frogs, snakes, and other life drawn to the water.

So I seem him at both water places on campus: in the garden and at the water tank, mornings and evenings. I love him.

And lastly, I come around and up behind this wet corner by one of the dorms. This wetland may be caused by effluent. The reeds and cattails are much taller than I, and I would guess 15 feet or so. (I’m not sure if I’ll absorb the metric system while I’m here. The possibility is pretty slim, I’d guess.) I love it here too, but don’t get to close. Something splashed when I approached for a photo.

I love the cattails though, and would love to grab one for Deanna. But don't think I will risk getting to close to whatever splashed there.

Other shots here are of my favorite pepper tree, just so you can see some perspective of how tall it is. It is the one with the knotty trunk. It is the largest and oldest tree here, I think.

Last night as I was walking, the breeze was blowing. There is a stand of pine trees here, and to hear them blowing in the wind reminded me of home. I closed my eyes and pretended I was in Bernheim Forest. It wasn’t quite the same, but I found comfort in it.

And the other is of one of my favorite weeds that I love at home and have here as well: thistle. The time from flower to seed is very short, seemingly overnight. I noticed the same thing in AK, which makes sense. The weather, amount of sunlight, etc. is different depending on where it is growing on the globe.

The last few nights I heard what sounded like gunshots in the distance. And I thought to myself, in homage to Deanna’s sharp wit, “What kind of fresh hell is this?”

I’m delighted to say that the sounds weren’t gunshots at all. Apparently fireworks are enjoyed here in South Africa as they are in the US. Well, probably not on the same scale. Outside of my window, in the African dusk, someone was setting off Roman candles. In celebration of xmas, perhaps?

In any case, what a lovely sight: beautiful man-made globes of light shooting up in the air and dancing on the stage of the African sunset. Just for today, I’m a lucky girl.

Soon, Karen


  1. Testing to see if I can post a comment yet.
    Have a great day! Darlene

  2. Thx! I guess changing the settings worked. Sorry to all of those who have been trying to comment without success! My fault! (Everyone should be able to comment, without frustration, now.)

  3. I can see you craning your neck forward with you camera, hearing the splash, pausing, straightening your neck, raising your pinkies-quickly followed by the rest of your hands and then arms, and then a very ginger, careful step backward. Maybe 2 or 3 steps. Thank you for choosing your safety over my cattail! I'll enjoy the ones at Bernheim! Love you.