Saturday, February 21, 2009

Soccer Team!

This morning Maria gave me a letter from a friend in Eesterust, someone we met at Christmas. She has organized a soccer team thanks to the soccer balls that we gave them at Christmas. The boys are having such a fun time playing soccer and "have dreams of becoming David Beckham." I can't wait to go and cheer them on!

However, because the team is new, they are in need of all sorts of items to make them an official team, which include:

  • Soccer jerseys
  • Soccer shorts
  • Professional soccer balls (the ones we gave them aren't tough enough for the league)
  • Goalie gloves
  • First Aid kit

These are the things they asked for, but I'm sure they are also in need of shin guards, socks, and shoes. The boys range in age from 6-12.

The community has asked Will, Heidi, Bryan, and I to help out with this task. If we help them, we get to name the team. Fun!

I'm posting this in case any of my fantastic readers would like to contribute to this great cause. They are many, many ways that you can help!

(1) Look around your house - do you have any of the items above that you would be willing to give away? Maybe an older pair of goalies gloves from your AYSO years? Maybe pair after pair after pair of soccer socks that you will never wear again... Even if you have some items that could contribute to a first aid kit (ace bandage, instant ice pack, band-aids, neosporin), that would be great.

(2) Buy up some of the items above (just reply to this post so there aren't duplicate items) and send through the diplomatic pouch for the cost of shipping something domestically. I'm sure that Wal-Mart, Sam's, and maybe even the dollar store have some of the items above (I wish we had dollar stores here...).

(3) Send a check for whatever amount you want, which I will put to use in purchasing these items for the kids (I'll even share receipts with you if you want for charitable tax purposes).

(4) Send cards or letters to these great boys and let them know you're cheering them on from the states.

(5) If soccer isn't your favorite thing but you still want to help out the wonderful orphans in this community, there are so many things that you could send that they would appreciate greatly. We're coming up on winter and their homes do not have heat. Any warm items (gloves, hats, etc.) that are going on sale in stores back in the U.S. would be really beneficial. A crate of Ramen Noodles would be fantastic and would offer a warm meal on a cold night. Books (easy readers, coloring books, paint-by-number), art supplies, dolls, toys, etc. - these kids range in age and they would appreciate anything and everything. Again, the dollar store or the Target $1 spot may have items that the kids would appreciate.

Of course, once this gets up and running, pictures will be posted soon... but for now, here are their beautiful faces!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

New links!

As you devoted readers know, much of this blog is (accidentally) devoted to food. South Africa has some interesting and strange foods (there should be an orientation to strange sausages for every newcomer!) and I like trying them all. I have found that I love ostrich, sweet potatoes are purple and white on the inside (I'd give my big toe for a yummy orange on the inside yam), pumpkins are white or green, biltong is South Africa's answer to beef jerky, and I still have no idea what a hanepoot is.

As newlyweds, we've really enjoyed cooking at home and experimenting with all these crazy foods. This means that I feel like I'm constantly on the Cooking Light, Rachael Ray, KraftFoods, America's Test Kitchen, or Real Simple websites looking up recipes to try. Recently I stumbled across three new websites that I really, really like and have therefore placed them to the right of this post for handy surfing.

First and foremost is The Pioneer Woman Cooks! I've seen these recipes online before, but after clicking on her actual page, I was astounded. Tons of yummy recipes with simple ingredients - I'm a fan. I like this website as her recipes include ingredients I can easily get here in South Africa. Yay! The parmesan crusted chicken is already making me drool... and her whole section devoted to sushi makes me want to have a sushi party sometime soon (if only I can find fresh tuna here!!!).

The second is Reformed Carnivore, my friend Rachel's fantastic vegan food blog. All of you know I am NOT vegan and definitely not a vegetarian (see commentary above on my love affair with all things ostrich), but I do try to eat veggie at least once a week for dinner, if not more than that. I always end up achieving that goal is I find I typically like vegetarian meals - plus the vegetables here in SA are soooo tasty and inexpensive! Not only am I fan of Rachel, I'm a fan of her recipes and pictures that accompany said recipes. Fabulous! Check it out. South Africa is a really healthy country, but I haven't seen much in the way of TVP, seitan, veggie products (morningstar farms and boca are non-existent here), soy-based cheeses, or even true block tofu (I've seen it a couple times, but not often) so a lot of these recipes I can't replicate vegan-ly, but could come close.

The third is a Rachel-recommended site: Vegan yum-yum. Again, I love the step-by-step pictures and the recipes. There's even a really great post on how to photograph food with a fancy camera (tips could be useful on all sorts of other types of photography).

Anyway, just thought I'd share. Enjoy!

Side note: I think I am going to try whole wheat pizza dough soon. I just got this recipe in an email. Hmmm. I've seen wheat pasta in the stores so we'll see!

Monday, February 16, 2009

A Perfect Prez Day

Here's my recommended list of how to spend a perfect President's Day holiday:

(1) Sleep in, even if for some crazy reason your house alarm is going off because it was struck by lightning. Again.

(2) Eat homemade rice krispie treats for breakfast (thanks Beth!).

(3) Spend a good portion of your day outside, preferably lounging in your pool with your significant other and playing with your dogs (I finally took pictures of Muddy being submarine pup and I think I caught him right in mid-air! pics for you as soon as I find the upload thingy...). This activity is best enjoyed when you rig up your Bose iPod stereo to play through the window so you can hear it outside in the pool.

(4) Run errands with your hubby and experience limited traffic and no lines in the stores as everyone else is at work except you. mwahahhahaa.

(5) Bake Funfetti cupcakes to take to work the following day to (1) celebrate your own birthday* and (2) give your coworkers something else to smile about in their 4 day work week.

(6) Get wedding ring appraised, insured, and repolished so that it is no longer black underneath some of the stones on your wedding band (was it really THAT dirty? ewww...) and also get your hubby's ring repolished so that its shiny once again. Its like getting brand new jewelry!

(7) Eat a fantastic Indian dinner with friends and have lots of laughs while enjoying a beautiful summer evening in South Africa.

(8) Remember that you have an iTunes gift card and immediately start downloading all the musical treasures you discovered while you had access to TV while in Zambia and Uganda...

All in all, it was a relaxing, fantastic Monday off from work. I am dreading the pile of work that has undoubtedly accumulated on my desk during my 3 week hiatus from the office. Yowsa. Wish me luck.

On another note of interest, check this out. This is my friend Rachel's fabulous Vegan food blog. If anyone could ever convince me to go Vegan, its definitely this reformed carnivore! Its interesting to see the great things she comes up with and the pics are an absolute plus. I don't know how I'd even begin to replicate any of the recipes here in South Africa as I am in carnivore country (I've never even seen block tofu in the stores!), but I still like to look and see what new delights are posted. Enjoy!

*For some reason, it is customary in South Africa to celebrate your own birthday by bringing a cake to the office. Yes, that's right - you bring a cake to celebrate your own birthday in this country. No one buys it for you - you supply it and everyone else eats it. No "Happy birthday" singing either - just an email to everyone in the office saying "Valerie brought her birthday cake today. Its in the kitchen." The interesting thing is to note the time in which the email goes out to the time in which the last piece of cake stands. I am taking 40 cupcakes to work tomorrow and will let you know how quick they go. For the record, they are half funfetti and half devil's food cake, both imported cake mixes from the states so it will be an experiment to see whether my colleagues like these American treats!

Uganda and pasta!

All in all, Uganda was fantastic. Even the roads are some of the worst I've ever experienced (potholes large enough to lose a Miata in!) and Will and I are both currently suffering from a mysterious malady we think was caused by swallowing too much Nile water, we absolutely loved Uganda.

The Ugandans are SO NICE! The Zambians are also super nice, but they are very shy and reserved whereas the Ugandans are just so much fun. Understandably, this made the trip really great as every where we went, there were friendly faces. We also felt incredibly safe in Kampala, which also made the trip great.

Even though I was holed up in the hotel for most of the day because of work, Will and I made it a point to go out every night. We went to what could possibly be the best Indian restaurant I've ever been to (which is sad, as I don't think I'll be making it back to Uganda any time soon to go back there!). Another night we went to a great Thai restaurant, which was really yummy. I think one of the nicest things about dining out in Kampala was that everywhere we went, we ate outside. The weather was perfect while we were there so it was nice to spend the evening relaxing outside and enjoying the great weather.

For my birthday we made reservations at Emin Pasha based on the recommendations of some colleagues. It did not disappoint. This place is incredibly breathtaking - I've never seen such a beautiful hotel! The food was incredible. I had a goat cheese and arugula salad and a really yummy butternut squash ravioli - just what I wanted! Will had a great steak. After dinner, we relaxed outside on a cushy bench under the stars in the beautifully manicured garden behind the hotel - it really was a perfect birthday dinner. When we returned to the hotel, we invited some colleagues to share the huge cake and wine the Sheraton had given me for my birthday. There was a karaoke band that convinced me to come on stage with them and sing "Total Eclipse of the Heart" - amazingly, the crowd cheered me on. All in all, it was an amazing birthday and one that won't be forgotten any time soon.

Here is a picture of the fabulous treats the hotel got me for my birthday! Will had asked the concierge for help in finding me some roses for my birthday. When he came back from running an errand, he found all the items above sitting in our room. As you can see, roses, wine, a big fruit platter, a bottle of "Lady Perfume" (eau de toilette de Sheraton!), and a nice note written to me about my birthday. Yay! How nice!

Next thing I know, someone is knocking on our door. Its this gentleman (who is very happy as you can see!) bringing a HUGE cake to my door with lots of birthday wishes. Nice!

A close-up of the massive cake! They even spelled my name right! This cake was HUGE and actually really tasty. We split it between 8 people and still had half of the cake left! One Sheraton waiter was ecstatic to take it home with him that night...

We're now in South Africa - it really feels good to be back! Yesterday we decided to have a pasta party and put the pasta machine I got for Christmas to use. I had seen an article in my Rachael Ray magazine on hosting a pasta party so I thought I'd give it a try. I was not disappointed with the results. We made homemade fettucine, a marinara sauce, and meatballs based on the recipes in the article. Everything was SO GOOD. Of course my meatballs were made with ostrich and panko bread crumbs plus some red pepper flakes and fennel seed, but man oh man, they were, in the words of Rachael Ray, yum-o. The marinara sauce was hands down the best marinara I've ever made. I added diced up carrot to lessen the acidity of the sauce plus some dried oregano and italian herbs to the cooking onions, and of course, lots of extra basil. It was PERFECT. I would highly recommend trying the sauce and/or meatballs as it was so tasty!

We also decided to be brave and try making ravioli. Will looked up our favorite dish from Maggiano's, the mushroom ravioli al forno, and found a cheater recipe online. Although my patience was tried by this sauce as you have to reduce everything (the mushrooms, the wine/onion mixture, the cream!), it truly tasted like the real thing once all was said and done. And that, my friends, is a-mazing. A shout out must be made to Beth, who assembled all the raviolis. The pasta is definitely a two-person job!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

I did it!

Two things really quick about the Nairobi airport:
(1) I get off the plane and enter the terminal to hear... DOLLY PARTON! And not recent Dolly, old school Dolly and it continued to play the entire time I was in the airport. Awesome! This confirms my suspicion that my favorite famous Tennessean is a favorite in Africa and should come give a concert here soon to all her fans.
(2) If Kenyans love Dolly, they REALLY love Obama! Everything - and I mean everything - had an Obama logo on it in the gift shops. From bracelets to shawls to books and magazines to even key chains and bumper stickers, its all pretty incredible.

As most of you know, for my the bulk of my life I've been the first to tell you that I'm somewhat of a fraidy cat. I think this all started to change when I went to Egypt in 2003 and promised myself to try anything and everything that landed on my plate, which resulted in me eating brain, intestine, and a fish with its head on. EW. Everyone knows how picky I am so this was a big deal! In 2005, I traveled to Zambia all by myself and went on a walking safari, which to this day earns street cred in Africa (they think you're crazy to put yourself on the same terrain as elephants and lions - I thought nothing of it). Back home, I started trying things I never thought I could do, such as running a 5K which eventually led me to running a half marathon and raising over $5000 for a good cause.

Then I met Mr. Will.

The fantastic thing about Will is that he acknowledges what I'm afraid of and then challenges me to combat it. Scared of kayaking down class 2 rapids? Get in a boat and try - I'll be right there beside you. Reluctant to try grilled asparagus wrapped in bacon? Close your eyes and take a bite and then decide for sure whether you like it or not - it can always be spit out. Nervous about climbing up to the top of a mountain in the middle of winter during hunting season where no one will hear us if something happens to us along the way? Let's just take the dogs and try (and then he proposed at the top). He got me ride a horse on our honeymoon, something that I had been afraid of doing for an extremely long time. Recently we even went on a zipline tour, and even though I did hurt myself, I surprised myself by having a really fantastic, exhilarting time.

So yesterday was a HUGE deal in terms of Will convincing me to do something I have NEVER wanted to do: whitewater rafting.

For years and years I've had friends try to convince me to go whitewater rafting and for years and years I've said "pass." Even though I spent the bulk of my childhood years in a pool and am a great swimmer, I've been incredibly afraid of what could happen in the white water. I just knew with my luck that I would be the person that would fall out and crack open their skull on a rock, the person that would somehow get tied up in the rope on the side of the boat and be dragged along until I drowned, that it would be me that someone knocked upside the head with a paddle. All of these events are extremely rare freak accidents that could occur, but to me, I just knew they would happen and it scared me to death. When Will suggested it a couple years ago, I looked at him like he was crazy and said "NEVER" - and I assume the expression on my face let him know this wasn't something that I would easily be swayed on.

To make matters worse, Stephanie went rafting on the Nile in Uganda in 2008 and had a DVD that documented the experience. They went down Class 2-5 rapids of churning water, crazy waves, and even steep waterfalls and I watched in horror as each boat when down the rapid and saw the people fall out of the boat and be retrieved by kayakers. At the end of the video I remember looking at Steph as if she was the bravest person I knew. I couldn't imagine doing something like that at all and felt I had lived vicariously through her video to feel as if I had experienced it myself. I thought that was that.

I was wrong.

A couple weeks ago I found out I was headed to Uganda for a conference. When I told Will, he suggested we raft the Nile like Steph. I thought about it - what was I really scared of? Thinking back to the video, I saw that despite the crazy intense class 5 rapids and that people fell out, no one got hurt and they were all quickly retrieved by men in kayaks. I remembered even though it was dangerous, it was still safe. And then I remembered how great it feels to feel scared of something and to try it anyway. So I said yes.

Yesterday morning we boarded Adrift's bus to Jinja with a bunch of other people as crazy as us. Nervously I picked my helmet and life vest. I breathed a sigh of relief when we were assigned to Jeffrey's group, the guide Steph had on her trip and who I knew was a former whitewater Olympian. We got into the boat, practiced paddling, flipping the boat, etc. And then it was time.

We went through a couple rapids until I knew it was time to reach the one that I feared the most from the video - a steep rapid (practically a waterfall) that all the boats flipped on and then a churning 8 foot freak of nature wave that you hit right after that. I was scared to death as we made it down the rapid and even more surprised that although half the boat fell out, my side of the boat stayed in. Unfortunately this meant that I watched in horror as Will fell out and went straight for that freak of nature wave. Of course, he was fine. After we did that rapid, all the other ones were super exciting and fun, even when we got stuck on rocks at a 90 degree angle (I am sure the photos of my face at that point are priceless because I just knew we were going to die).

All in all, I'm super proud of myself (and disappointed that my Neutrogena SPF 55 that I applied 3 times to myself and Will did not do its job). Will I go whitewater rafting again? To answer this questions from Will, "Yes, but not this year." Will said he had never gone through rapids like that so I'm glad to know that whatever we do next might be a little less dramatic. ha!

I feel like I only have a few more things to accomplish on my life. I could care less about bungee jumping, especially since I did that crazy swing thing in Destin which, IMHO, is more fun than bungee jumping would be since you swing and it lasts a good 10 minutes. I really want to go see the Great White Sharks in Cape Town, but I don't necessarily want to get in the cage with them, especially if they throw chum in the water (ew). I'm still extremely hesitant about riding a motorcycle - its just not my cup of tea.

But I can look back at my life and say with lots of satisfaction that I've lived an adventurous life and am officially no longer a fraidy cat.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Victoria Falls!

The very top of Victoria Falls! I'm taking these pictures during the middle of rainy season so my visit to the falls is VERY different from when I visited during dry season. Enjoy!

Here I am, nice and dry!

The falls! The spray is so great that I can't see very far down the gorge or to the bottom! And the one thing you may not get from these pictures is the sound - it is so loud! They call the falls Mosi-o-tunya, which means "The Smoke that Thunders." You can see the "smoke" from the falls for miles and miles during rainy season.

I put this picture in to show the contrast of when I visited in September 2005. Believe it or not, I'm standing in the same place in both pictures. You can see how great the spray is and how much more water is coming over. Crazy huh?

All of these pictures will be a bit blurry due to the spray. Its like being in an absolute downpour! It is absolutely amazing, breathtaking, and truly indescribable.

In order to see the entire length of the Zambian side of the falls, you have to cross this bridge, which at this time of the year is COVERED in about an inch of water. As we crossed the bridge, gusts of wind and spray came in every direction! The best part was that if you're scared of heights, you can't see anything if you look down.

Again, same place, different times of the year! I was soaking wet on our trip into the park to see the falls. Note to self: "You will get wet on this ride!"

The road going into Zimbabwe from Zambia. See how everyone is carrying what they can into the Zimbabwe...

Enjoying sundowners (and drying off!) at the Royal Livingstone

The monkeys love to steal fruit from drinks.

Don't let looks deceive you: this baby monkey is a THIEF.

Monkeys, monkeys everywhere!!!

This little guy had his eye on me...

A beautiful sunset!

I know several of you REALLY want to visit Victoria Falls. I feel like I've seen them at two extremes. To be honest with you, I'm not sure which one I think is better since they are so different.

I loved seeing the falls in dry season as you really could see how great the ravine is that the falls spill over. It is so steep and so long, its just amazing to me. It really makes you wonder how the earth split apart to create the falls. Its also nice to walk in and out of the park bone dry. The only bad things about going during the dry season are obviously not seeing the true falls and all the baboons that roam around the trails in the park (and are very aggressive).

I am so thankful for the opportunity to see the falls during the rainy season. The sound, the spray, the sheer amount of water spilling over that grate ravine - its incredible! It was also fun to don a poncho and get so incredibly soaking wet, all because of a waterfall! The rainbows were beautiful and no baboons could be found in the rain. I missed seeing the ravine because I think its just so stunning but at the same time, it was replaced with an incredibly stunning view.

Perhaps what I'm saying is - there's no bad time to go to the falls!!!

Monday, February 2, 2009


After 3.5 years, I have returned to Zambia! Yay!

Yesterday I made my first of many trips to the international terminal of the Jo'burg airport. This led to a few noteworthy experiences:
(1) Even though I'm booked on the flight, they tell me at check-in that they are doing "everything they can" to ensure I'm on the flight. This means my pleasant request for an exit row is denied. I end up with a boarding pass in my hand and am happy to not be inconvenienced.
(2) Next its through security/passport handling. The security line I'm in conveniently deposits me into the Diplomat line. As I'm walking up to the window, the woman starts waving me away and saying "You must join the queue to your left." I then flash my Diplomatic passport and the next two minutes result in about 101 apologies from this woman for mistaking my Diplomat status. Her last comment to me: "Can you get me a job at your Embassy?" Hmmm.
(3) As I am boarding the plane, the ticket handler scrutinizes my boarding pass. Next thing I know he's taking a pen and scratching up my boarding pass. He then hands it to me and says "2D." HECK YES! AN UPGRADE!!! I don't know why or how (I'm guessing my miles status on either Delta or South African air) but I'm relieved.

Ah, business class. I love upgrades. I love them even more on South African air, with their large cushy seats and attentive service. I enjoyed champagne and a fabulous grilled fish meal with - real silverware! Will has always thought it was lame that they took real silverware off the airlines - its how the passengers of Flight 93 was brought down in Pennsylvania! It was nice to have such a comfortable flight and be fed so well.

Our arrival in Lusaka was fabulous. Again, I breezed through passport control with my Diplomat status - what a bonus! Our luggage arrived quickly and we met up with our driver. In 3.5 years, Lusaka has changed A LOT. Mostly it appears that they've added a bunch of new restaurants and stores. All in all, its nice!

The hotel I am staying at has also changed dramatically. When I stayed here before, my room was a throwback to the 1970s, complete with a very dated photo of a giraffe and slow dial-up Internet. Now my room is resplendent in muted beige and blue with wireless internet, a flat screen TV (with movie and TV show channels! I'm watching Samantha Who right now!), and a cushy bed with fantastic sheets. Even the menu has radically changed in the hotel.

Tomorrow I'm headed to Livingstone (read: Victoria Falls) to meet with a few partners, including one brand new partner so that's exciting. We should have enough time to go see the Falls - keep your fingers crossed for good weather. Its rainy season so its going to be really different seeing the falls now then when I saw them in December. Yes, I'll take pictures if its not too wet!