Safari in South Africa

Although tracking Rhinos on foot and getting up close and personal with a cheetah are hard to beat… The shot of the trip was a team effort.  Lions really are big cats, just sleeping all day not caring about who rolls up on them.  A well timed spotlight and some ambient noise led to a nighttime head raise.  Although not the clearest shot I have ever taken, an instant favorite!

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Mr. C teaches the Second grade… In South Africa

**Tarantino plot warning*

THINKING CAP ON, (include personalized sound effect for putting on imaginary thinking cap)

BUCKLE YOUR SEATBELT, (include personalized sound effect for putting on imaginary double crossed seatbelt)

TAKE OUT YOUR PENCIL (you don’t have to take out a pencil)

After 10 days of being called Vinny, “Mr. C” stepped up to the plate in Lwaleng (Waa-Leng) township school… Cue the smirk…

Mixing cement, moving bricks, laying bricks… Mixing cement, moving bricks, laying bricks… Mixing cement, moving bricks, laying bricks… after enough of those cycles a group of 22 worldwide students, a handful of South Africans, an Aussy, a Brit, a Jordanian and a foul mouthed bearded American built a library from the ground up.

Cement mixing is very similar to making instant milk. Just add water, and mix and mix and mix until you feel like you need one of those obnoxious lifting belts that all the old power lifters wear around the gym to do bicep curls. Or at least do the work well enough that the South Africans didn’t box you out and out-shovel you.

As about half of the 22 person team was on the worksite the other half was doing the tedious jobs needed around the school. Fresh paint for the classrooms, drawing up murals on new storage containers, and fixing older murals that needed some freshening up.

The highlight for most of the students was a three day holiday camp that we put on for about 20 of the township students. It was the first dose of being a counselor/teacher for most of the students, especially in regards to the backgrounds of the kids they were working with. Three intense mornings of English, Art, and recreation may have been harder than building the library. The brief time my students spent with the kids was well appreciated, and by the second day all of the kids knew our names.

We finished building on a Saturday, and went off to rev up the culture meters on Sunday (spoiler alert: a blog post describing the “Maximum Glory of God” church will be up in a few days), so for our last day on site the school was beginning a new term, so instead of working with 20 kids, we worked within the entire 500 student population of Lwaleng.

After pairing the students up they went to various classrooms.

I say classroom in the loosest definition possible, some rooms had up to 70 kids on the roster, and at least two of the grades had class outside, one was under a tree, and one was under an overhang where we had ate lunch every day the week before. I have discussed “doses of reality” in my travels, but to be at Lwaleng when school was in session was heartbreaking. As I sat in a 6th grade class with 50 students doing some English work we heard THE BELL. Which means lunchtime, well more or less brunch time, since most of the kids don’t get a breakfast and the bell sounds at 10:30.

After the lunch break the second grade teacher needed to go home because of a health issue. She came in to work earlier in the day and I actually had to half carry her up a few steps. At the time I thought she was a member of the local rotary club checking out the first day of classes…

So, after a brief look at the old math workbook and some much needed teamwork between myself and some help from two of my students we stepped into the overcrowded classroom and learned some double digit addition.

THINKING CAP ON, (include personalized sound effect for putting on imaginary thinking cap)

BUCKLE YOUR SEATBELT, (include personalized sound effect for putting on imaginary double crossed seatbelt)

TAKE OUT YOUR PENCIL (you don’t have to take out a pencil)

**”Hooked on a Feeling” plays in the background**

After the thinking caps were on and the seatbelts were buckled 100 circles were drawn on the board, kids were buying fake apples and oranges, comparing who had more of what, and holy hell, they were even raising their hands, a class triple the size of anything I have seen and the kids were raising their damned hands. A smirk overtook me, I wanted to blindly shout USA USA USA and throw chalk into the air and walk out in a cloud of chalk dust and sand. What are primary school teachers complaining about??? This is great, kids are excited, they don’t know anything about politics and haven’t been corrupted by buzzfeed or Kanye West yet…

After the class got into the groove the class had a bit of a recess. Since my confidence was at an all time high I tried to help out some other students with a group of first graders, and was swiftly kicked, scratched, grabbed, and jumped on back to reality.

Vinny: -8

Primary School Teachers: 63

Outside the walls in Miami

Buckle your seatbelt belt buckle, throw on some suspenders to pretend to hold up those overpriced skinny jeans, (remember you’re wearing a seatbelt belt buckle) and grab a PBR, as we head off the beaten path to the art district of Miami.  The Wynwood walls have two distinct fronts.  The project has gotten too big for one contained area, so outside the original setup buildings have become backdrops for some amazing street art.  A few overpriced thrift stores, a great BBQ place and some well needed air conditioning made it a great mini adventure.

Evolutionary Mecca, The Galapagos Islands

Nearly 180 years ago Charles Darwin came to the islands as a 25 year naturalist who would rather draw barnacles than have a girlfriend.  Legend has it he was not always an old frumpy looking bald man with a beard, but a kid with a serious knack for Biology.  The statue of Darwin at his foundation is the Darwin that no one seems to think about, or at least the version that I have overlooked, the mutton-chopped naturalist who did all of the fieldwork that modern day Biology is based on.

I know what your thinking, did I see any Komodo dragons???

The answer is NO…  Since Komodo Dragons are not found in the Galapagos…. I did see lots of other animals, a lot of which are only found on the island chain.

I also met someone who appreciates terrible American touristy Spanish accents more than I do, and he happened to be a naturalist for National Geographic, and our guide for a few days.  He took us on a biological whirlwind of adaptive radiation, botany, invasive species, marine biology and ecotourism.  It made the 4 day scouting trip seem like two weeks,  more mentally challenging than physical, because lets be honest, not too many people want to discuss Biology outside of us foolhardy science teachers.