This year’s first trip actually began on Thursday with the packing of medical supplies at Afya – a non-profit with an incredible operation. They acquire donated and expired medical supplies and give them to hospitals, clinics, and organizations in developing countries. Through one of our students, Alex S., we were able to connect with Afya and pack 16 duffel bags worth of medical equipment to donate to the hospital, orphanages, senior care, and rehabilitation organizations with which we will be working over the next 3 weeks. We also have 11 more duffel bags packed with clothing, sports equipment, books, shoes, and more. Each student has their own bag and one big duffel that they are going to give to these very worth organizations.
On Friday, we “officially” began at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan with some team building and icebreakers. Chelsea Piers did an outstanding job of providing us with several activities that somehow put us in an emotional place very much like we might encounter on this trip. In particular, we played a game called “Bull Ring” and went rock climbing. Bull Ring seemed simple enough – move a ball from one pedestal to another using a series of ropes tied to a ring – only, we had to do it blindfolded. Each team elected a leader who was not blindfolded and served as a guide. We quickly became incredibly anxious and recognized how much we rely on clear, explicit direction in order to accomplish what seemed like a simple task.
The rock climbing, also a relatively simple – if not common – activity, was given a similar twist. Instead of having a Chelsea Piers professional on belay, we each had to be responsible for each other. After a lesson on how to belay, we took our turn climbing the walls in front of us ranging from “easy” to “hard” – I’m not sure who defines these levels, but none of them were easy. Of course, we had to depend on each other to quite literally catch one another if we fell; fortunately we made it through unscathed. Naturally, combining the idea of the two activities made sense, so a number of us climbed the wall blindfolded – which presented an interesting challenge.
At 8am on Saturday, we met at JFK for our 11am flight. Check-in went as smoothly as could be expected and Terminal 4 has a whole new look, making the post security experience that much more pleasurable. After a few lattes, some farewell texts, and several trashy magazines in hand -we boarded our home for the next 16 or so hours to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.
We arrived in Zimbabwe after a pretty uneventful flight. Most of us slept. Some listened to screaming children, others preferred to watch 8 movies, while most listened to noisy neighbors. For the most part, though, we arrived in Zimbabwe, after a quick South African connection, in good spirits…this wouldn’t last long.
Upon entering customs, we were approached by a customs official demanding that we declare our goods. Apparently, it looked a little too suspicious having several teenage students pushing carts with 6 or more overloaded duffel bags. She asked about them and we were not permitted to go any further. They confiscated 10 of our bags and demanded a $2000 duty on the goods – goods that actually have no value since they were donated. We promised that they were in transit, but that didn’t seem to matter – she needed proof that the goods were not staying in and being sold in Zim. This is pretty customary and I thought I was prepared; apparently I was not. After a 3-hour battle, it was decided that we would leave our bags there and, through a clearing agent (as if we are shippers shipping goods), we can pass them along to Botswana tomorrow – we shall see!
We finally got to the hotel for a quick wash up and then re-boarded the bus to visit Victoria Falls. No matter how many times I visit the falls, I am still amazed at the power and splendor. We had a terrific, albeit wet walk through the rainforest and I was pleased that a video I shared earlier of a bungee jumper plummeting into the river only a year ago from the very same bridge we were looking at helped me discourage all from wanting to jump. Thank you, YouTube, thank you.
Dinner tonight was at “THE BOMA – A Place For Eating” – a superbly named location. After being offered a starter choice of bream, impala, crocodile, or guinea fowl, everyone was invited to visit the buffet. At the buffet we were treated to assorted salads, side dishes, and soup – but the real treat came at the fire pits. One pit had roasted lamb on a spit, while the other had a bbq selection of steak, warthog, chicken, boerwurst, and “Eland Balls” – we didn’t ask, but they were delicious – and finally, Mopani Worms, which came with a certificate of consumption. The Boma is a wonderful way to begin the trip with drumming, singing, dancing, fortune telling, face painting, and so much more.
So now it’s late and we have an early morning elephant back safari ride tomorrow. I look forward to the roar of one of the Seven Wonders of the World lulling my jet lag away and hope to be in touch in a few days after our first safari.