Rachel Vernon
Rachel Vernon
South Africa, 2022
Hi, my name is Rachel, I will be going to Cape Town, South Africa for 6 months to work with Volunteer Solutions. I plan to work in elementary schools with sports development and work in a local clinic. Read More About Rachel →

Back to School

Last night before Sofia started school

Hi everyone! These last two weeks have been getting ready for the start of school. Jade and Auntie V collected all the school stationery things that Rozano, Ronaldo, and Sofia need. Sofia started school first on the 16th of January then the boy’s 18th. I also started school on the 18th. Auntie V has been teaching me how to cook her meals so that I can make them at home. I made sure to write down her recipes too! She even bought me specific spices for akni and curry.

Rode in a taxi, it was a crazy experience, everyone stared at us as we got in

The first day of school was hectic. The children went up a grade since this is a new school year, so kids were trying to find their new teachers and get settled in. Unfortunately, since there was so much admin stuff to do the students won’t have PT this week. They said they don’t need us until next week. Although we didn’t have PT we went around to each class to say hi! You would tell which students we had last year because they yelled “COACH!” and those that were new sat back in their desks nervous and confused who we were. It was so nice to talk with all the administration as well. We updated each other about how our summer break went. Unfortunately, there was one staff member that did not come back to school. Dawn, the custodian, had a heart attack at the end of the school year and another one during the break so she is not doing well. I really appreciated how loved she made me feel. She was the first one to know my name by heart. The other staff was excited about the year, but also sad that the break was over.

A variety of Auntie V’s dishes

During the break, I felt like a celebrity because when I saw students at the beach or grocery store they were always so excited to see me! It made me miss school so badly. I even saw a teacher at a store, and we chatted for a bit. The geese and rabbits are doing well! The geese got used to roaming the school during break, so now the staff isn’t sure if the geese are going to roam the school with students around or if they will stay in their “cage.” (I say cage in parenthesis because there is no roof and an open door around the back. The cage is not really to keep the geese in, but rather to keep the kids out.) It has been so cool watching the kids change how they interact with the geese the longer the geese have been at school.

The 18th was also Yonga’s birthday! She turned 23! She said she didn’t celebrate her birthday growing up because she grew up very poor, but I wanted to make her feel special because she has made me feel special and at home. We often talk about religion, including how our faith has changed and what were praying for. She told me she was saving up for a bible because she doesn’t have one. Instantly I knew I had to buy her a bible! So, I tried to discretely ask what kind of bible she wanted like the translation, color scheme, and any additional features that she wanted. I found a Christian bookstore and bought her the Life Application Bible. She was glowing when she opened it! She was almost to tears. It was a special moment! We also celebrated her with a birthday cake.

I hope you all are doing well and staying warm! I am overheating here because the weather just keeps getting hotter!

Hinse and I dying from the heat

Happy New Year!

Hey everyone! Where did 2022 go? WOW! I can’t believe we are already a week into 2023! Due to the holidays, we have hosted lots of friends of Auntie V, Rozano, and Ronaldo. We enjoy picnics by the pool with “cool drink.” This is the season of “cool drink,” chips, and sweets! When I get home I am gonna need to eat veggies for a month straight. I realized I haven’t said much about the food here! Well, it is delicious! My favorite meal is tied between roti and curry or cabbage bredie. Both are meals you tend to eat when it is chilly out. The roti and curry is mince (aka ground beef) curry with potatoes, served on what looks like a tortilla. The cabbage bredie is kind of like a stew with cabbage, chicken, and potatoes served on rice. I have never eaten so many potatoes in my life! I also love a classic braai with grilled meats and salads.

As my time is coming to an end, I feel at peace. I am excited about going home and sad about leaving, but I feel like I have accomplished what I came here to do. I came to serve others, play soccer, learn about someone else’s culture, and build a life. I am proud of myself for being brave enough to move to another country alone. Not many people get the opportunity to move across the world and experience living a different life. I am so thankful Lumos has made this possible. This trip has had a huge impact on my life. I have grown into a more compassionate person with thicker skin. Someone who sees others not as black, white, or brown, but as people with common needs, such as food, water, and shelter. I also learned to appreciate all of the luxuries I have in a first-world country. More specifically, unlimited water supply. Not many people have a dishwasher due to the cost and amount of water used. Also, when I do laundry, I dump the soapy water onto the plants because no water must be wasted.

Playing head bands with the fam around the pool

New Year’s Eve was just an average day. Went to grocery stores, worked out, and did laundry. Most of the house fell asleep before midnight. I stayed up, but just barely. I was spooked when the neighbors set off a single firework because it sounded like a gunshot. Auntie V and Jade said they shot out of bed because it scared them so bad. The neighbors shot off a few more fireworks, but nothing like an American firework show. Although we couldn’t see the fireworks in town, I heard them for about an hour.




Tried tongue for the first time

New Years’ day was fun because we hosted Auntie Paul and her family. We had a braai in the backyard and listened to music by the pool. I also tried tongue for the first and last time. I was not a fan, but it was really cool that I got to try it. It is so weird that the first of 2023 was spent by the pool, rather than bundled up under a blanket.





Cape coons costumes at the parade

On January 2nd, there was a major event called, The Cape Town Minstrel Carnival. This is a parade from District 6 through the city center to the DHL stadium. The parade is held on the second of January, also known as a second new year or Tweede Nuwe Jaar. New Years was a time when the slaves, who had come from all over the world, were allowed to socialize with the colonists. The freed slaves began playing instruments in the city streets. Later it evolved into a parade filled with dancing, colorful clothing, and instruments. People line up the streets with tents, mattresses, chairs, and coolers. People get there early in the morning and camp out all day to get a good view. Due to COVID-19, the parade was suspended for the last 2 years, so this year everyone was there.

As I reflected on things I learned in 2022, most of them came from living in Cape Town and I wanted to share a few.
1. Communicate through everything because people can’t read your mind.
2. FOMO is overrated, find what you really want to do and do it because life is to short feeling like you’re missing out.
3. Gratitude daily makes you a happier person (I learned this in an online course I am currently taking through Yale University).
4. Growth is painful.
5. Fewer clothes mean less time and stress when picking out your outfit.
6. Time heals all wounds.
7. Listening attentively means you care.

Maybe you have learned some of these lessons this year. I challenge you to think about the lessons you learned this year and write them down. I have done this since my sophomore year of college and it is neat to see how I have grown and what I have learned over the years.

Khuluma ngokushesha (Talk soon, in Zulu)

Happy Holidays from Cape Town!

Sophia and I spend a lot of time together now that she’s home from school

Hi everyone! Here is the life update since school ended. Don’t worry I haven’t been just sitting around all day, every day! The week of the 11th I have been helping around the house. Since the holidays are around the corner, we have been deep cleaning the house much like our “spring cleaning.” We have cleaned everything from the carpets to the back cupboard in the kitchen. Every inch of this house has been cleaned, which if you know me, I love a clean house. We also went Christmas shopping to gather nonperishable items. We filled an entire car with food and drinks. They take Christmas seriously here! Since everyone is home, we have all been pitching in to help around the house. All three kids, Sophia, Rozano, and Ronaldo all passed and will be moving to the next grade. I still don’t understand the grading system. How can 30% be considered passing?

In other news, I got food poisoning. It was from a restaurant that came recommended to me. It was a miserable 24 hours. Yonga took really good care of me, so I am glad she was there to help! Fortunately, I am feeling much better and am trying to take it easy. I have never been this sick in my adult life. Although I missed making Christmas cookies, I was a part of putting up the Christmas tree; it was so much fun with a 3-year-old! We all wore matching reindeer antlers and took turns putting on Christmas ornaments.

The latest update about my other volunteering opportunities: I reached out personally to the special care clinic, but there was a miscommunication with a third party, so I won’t be able to volunteer there due to the holidays. I have also reached out to two private hospitals about possibly volunteering there. Hopefully, I can get a chance to visit a hospital. The medical sites that Stay Africa send their students to include two local clinics, but I was hoping to get into a hospital, as the patient population is much broader. The students volunteering at the clinics have mentioned that it is boring because the patient population is limited to dehydrated patients, HIV testing, and common colds. I was hoping for an experience in a hospital with more complex patients. So, we will see what comes of these two local hospitals that came recommended by Auntie V.

Home life here is just different than home life at home, and I am finding myself missing home more. I am ready to come home, but I can’t leave without saying goodbye to the kids. I recently learned that there was more miscommunication about when the students will go back to school. I originally thought it was the 11th of January, but that was last year’s schedule. This year the students go back on the 18th of January. So, I am pushing to get into a hospital and keep myself busy because as much as I enjoy working around the house, I want to get out and help within the community.

I can’t believe Christmas is here! On Christmas eve we do most of the cooking for Christmas brunch. I peeled 28 potatoes! Unfortunately, since Yonga works in the food industry she will have to work on Christmas. I suggested changing Christmas to a different day, but that was a stupid idea. Even the guy fixing the kitchen said, “You mean do Christmas on like Saturday evening, NO WAY!” Here tradition is very important and will have Christmas on Christmas day whether you’re there or not.

Church with Auntie V

On Christmas, I went to church with the family for the first time. I have been meaning to go, but Auntie V doesn’t have her driver’s license so they go when Jade is off work (Auntie V says that if she gets a license, it will make her have more responsibilities, so she relies on Jade to get her and the boys around). Church was a very interesting experience. The church is apostolic, so I had to always cover my shoulders and head, and the men must wear suit jackets. They mostly spoke Afrikaans, so I didn’t understand what they were saying most of the time.

Christmas lunch feast

After church, we had a big spread of food. We had (listed from top to bottom): potato salad, corn beef, pasta salad with curry seasoning, butternut squash, cauliflower with white sauce, akhni (a rice and chicken dish), mince curry in a roti (which is like a tortilla, also one of my favorite dishes she makes), meat pie (similar to chicken pot-pie), leg of lamb, and fried chicken, which they call KFC because they love KFC here). I tried to pace myself and serve a little of everything, but I was still stuffed at the end of the meal.

Christmas lunch with everyone around the table

Following lunch, we opened gifts and had dessert. Auntie V, Jade, Hinse, and I did a secret Santa. I chose Hinse, and I was so excited because I has a bunch of ideas. He said he wanted a girlfriend, a degree, and a driver’s license. Although I can’t give him any of those, I made him a fake diploma and got him a Captain America pj set, so he can think of me when he goes back to Belgium. For dessert, we enjoyed a trifold (layered with Jell-O, cake, and custard), a yogurt pudding with canned fruit, and a peppermint tart. Then we all went to our rooms to lie down. As much as I miss being home for the holidays, this is one of the most interesting and memorable experiences. I FaceTimed my parents to watch them open gifts and read the Christmas story.

Today is what they call boxing day. This is an old tradition where people used to go to the beach, have a little to drink, and box. Although there is no more boxing, people wake up before sunrise to get to the beach to get a spot for the day. Since we have a pool, we stayed at home. We also invited friends over to bring their leftovers to have a friend’s Christmas. I even tried cows tongue... wasn’t too bad.

I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and are not freezing with the crazy cold weather there!

Geseënde Kersfees! (Merry Christmas in Afrikaans)

Beyond Thankful for What I Have

Burning off the sugar in the bouncy house

Hello everyone! Hope you’re staying warm! Could you please send over some cold weather, I’m in a constant sweat. It is cool that we don’t have air conditioning because it’s all-natural, but on really hot days, it is miserable. It’s almost like we’re glamping all the time! Over the last two weeks, school has come to an end. It was the end of the year. As the heat has gotten stronger, I have tried to play with the kids in the shade because it is too hot to play in the sun all day. Also, to protect myself from the sun, I bought arm sleeves to cover my arms. I also wear a hat, pants, and sometimes glasses. The kids always wonder, “why are you wearing pants,” I say, “because the sun will burn my skin faster than yours.” They don’t look at me like I have a different skin color, they just look at me as the PT coach. The grade R-grade to grade 3 celebrated the end of the year with bouncy houses, candy, chips, cool drinks, and fried chicken. It was a blast, but exhausting. It is amazing what kids can do with sugary food and drinks. They are never-ending energizer bunnies!

Ice cream from ice cream truck

Something fun was that a local ice cream driver came through the neighborhood, so we grabbed ice cream cones right outside our house. Everyone was running around the house trying to find the cash to buy ice cream. The craziest part is when I heard that noise, my initial thought was, “it’s a fake ice cream truck trying to take kids.” When I told my host family, they couldn’t believe it. They have bought from this ice cream guy for years. It’s crazy how my experiences at home have caused me to be close-minded to the thought that an ice cream man may be trying to sell ice cream.





District 6 landscape

I also went to the district 6 museum to learn a little about the history of the Muslim community. District 6 was an area where the government told people they need the land to build on and that they will reimburse the people for their homes. The government was ruthless, they would bulldoze the house down whether it was empty or not. To this day, the land is still not built on, and the people of District 6 fight to keep it like that to remind people of how they were treated. The people moved further out of the city. The colored classes ranked as white on top, then Indian, colored, and then black. Based on this ranking they would be further and further from the city. Also, those who were colored or black had to carry a pass around. If they were stopped without their pass or after hours, they would be sent to jail.

Nelson Mandela’s prison cell

Speaking of jail, I also went to the jail where Nelson Mandela was in prison. The island is 11km from cape town, and anyone who tried to swim either drowned or was brought back to the jail and beheaded to show others to not try and escape. Our tour guide was a prisoner for 11 years. One of the most interesting facts was that they were forced to mine in a quarry. Due to the sun reflecting off the quarry, the prisoner’s eyes were damaged. Therefore, our tour guide had glasses that looked like the bottom of a bottle because his eyes had been so badly damaged.





The view from Table Mountain

On a higher note, I climbed Table Mountain. It was truly the hardest hike I have ever done! We climbed India Venster, one of the hardest ways to get to the top. It was so rewarding when we got to the top. Now every time I look at Table Mountain, I look at it as an accomplishment!

My host family are big soccer fans, so it has been a lot of fun watching the World Cup together. They are big Ronaldo fans, especially Ronaldo himself. I always pick the team against Portugal, just to be difficult. It causes for loads of shouting matches at the screen. This week at the host family things feel a little better. Now that school is out everyone is home all day so we are always on top of each other. I am working on coordinating a few days at other projects like medical and special needs before the holidays. So I’ll keep you posted! Also, I picked up my extended visa! I am allowed to stay in the country until February 2, 2023, but my flight is on January 29th, just to give myself a few days as a buffer.

What a traditional shack looks like in a township. Made of metal scraps they can find

One of the most impactful things I have done in cape town was visit one of the townships. (We did this tour through Stay Africa, and safety was a priority). We went to Philippi, a township just 30 minutes from Cape town. When driving through the townships the roads were unpaved and terribly bumpy. There were children who looked like they just started walking being led by other children who looked to be 3 years or younger. These children must grow up so fast because their parents are either at work (and can’t pay for childcare) or doing drugs. We went to a kindergarten that a gentleman started. He built a two-story shack in 2 weeks, with his house above his school. The school is funded strictly by donations. They have 60+ children and 5-10 volunteers who get paid if there is money left over in the budget. We got to play with these children for a while.

Kids from the kindergarten

They were very interested in my hand. They laughed, pointed, pulled their friends over, and even tried to separate my two fingers that are stuck together, which hurt... Because they didn’t speak English, I couldn’t communicate to them that it hurt, so I gently pulled my hand away. Other volunteers in the room said they were upset as they saw the kids laughing and pointing at my hand. I am used to this and I try to give grace to kids because they have never seen anything like my hand. I was fighting the tears the entire time. I just wanted to take all of them home with me and bathe them, feed them and love on them. The organization is called Community Kids Pot.

Also, while driving through the township, I noticed that there were a bunch of adults with leg amputations. This is because of poor living conditions and medical facilities being far away with long lines.

This experience required a lot of reflection as it was difficult mentally and emotionally. I concluded that although they don’t have what I have, it doesn’t mean I have to give up what I have. It made me appreciate not having to worry if I will be fed or freshly clothed. It made me reflect and be thankful for everything I have at home. It even sparked my interest in adoption, specifically from one of these areas, but don’t worry that’s not for a while!

As this trip is coming to an end, I have reflected on things I am going to miss. One of those is hugs from a precious 3-year-old or snuggles while we watch tv. But I’ll be able to replace those with hugs and cuddles from Gracie Jane! I will also miss Auntie V’s cooking, being able to walk to school, always being able to see Table Mountain from anywhere in Cape Town, the warmth and constant sun, and so much more. Something I didn’t know I needed was Jade’s ability to relate to my experience. She worked on a cruise ship for years before having Sophia, so she was away from home for extended periods. She helps me validate my feelings of excitement to explore, sadness when missing home, and thankfulness for this experience. I am so glad I have 49 more days here!

Sophinde sithethe (sow-pin-da see-teh-teh) we’ll talk again in Xhosa

“I’m Still Standing” -Elton John

Hudson’s proposal

Hi everyone! These two weeks have been the best two weeks of my life. That is not because everything was perfect or joyful, there was a lot of sadness, stress, and anxiety. All of the emotions created the most growth since I arrived in Cape town. This week started off with picking up a rental car. I have wanted to explore beyond Cape town, but it is very expensive to Uber, so renting a car was a good option. I was better at driving on the other side of the car and another side of the road than I thought. It was a fun challenge. Then I picked Hudson up from the airport. We immediately went up the west coast. We stopped at every beach we could to enjoy the different views. The best part of the drive was the West Coast Natural Reserve; the water was like the Caribbean and the sand was like siesta key beach. Then, the next highlight was that Hudson purposed! It was such an amazing surprise!

I’m standing on an ostrich egg

As we made it back down the west coast we stopped at an ostrich farm and got to hold a baby ostrich. Did you know that the eggshell is strong enough to stand on it? and they eat the eggshell (which is like glass) for calcium.







Cape Point

The week of November 20th was finals, so while the kids were testing their knowledge, we gained more knowledge about cape town by exploring. We drove down to Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point. It was a beautiful drive down the coast. Cape Point is one of the most southern tips of Africa. Then we went to the Castle of Good Hope, a castle built by the Dutch in the 17th century to protect Cape town from being taken from other countries, later to fall to the British.




Sunset in Hermanus (also where we saw whales breaching)

Then we went down the South East Coast to Hermanus. Wow! Beautiful and not what I was expecting. The drive included rolling hills with farmland, woodsy areas, and the beach. We made a stop at the Afrikaans Language Monument. It was built to represent that the Afrikaans language was a separate language from Dutch. Afrikaans includes a little bit of French, Dutch, German, Khios, and Portuguese. I actually visited the city where the first Afrikaans dictionary was published, Oudtshoorn.




The Afrikaans Language Monument

I loved introducing Hudson to my host family and school family. I was so nervous about bringing him to school, but I introduced him to the staff and students. Showed him how my school days usually run. Hudson commented how cool it is to see how I made a life in a different country all by myself. It made me feel really proud of myself.






7th grade prom

Also, as the school year is ending grade 7 had a prom (similar to the 8th grade formal). It was the first time I was a chaperone to a dance, but it was so fun watching the kids sing, dance, and laugh amongst each other. Since I have been here for so long, I get to experience big events throughout the school year.

Over the last two weeks, I have seen 33 different animals. The list includes crocodiles, baboons, alpacas, lamas, geese, camels, goats chickens, ostrich, tigers, elephants, cheetahs, peacocks, blue Crain (South Africa’s national bird), cows, horses, donkeys, sheep, dolphins and whales at outreaches or farms and mountain zebra, eland, lion, wildebeest, springbok, impala, kudu, giraffe, waterbuck, snakes, elephant, buffalo and rhino on the safari.

Petting a cheetah at a cheetah outreach

Of those animals, my favorite was feeding the alpacas, lamas, and ostrich (which I enjoyed for dinner and I also got to sit on), petting a cheetah, receiving an elephant hug, and watching the lions feast on chickens after fasting for 2 days. The safari was incredible! It was like an adult scavenger hunt! Also, on the Garden Route and Safari trip, I went kayaking and explored caves. The smallest tunnel we crawled through was 11 inches in height!




Climbing through the caves

Other adventures included Sophia’s concert, which was so cute, and watching the Elton John Rocketman movie at an outdoor venue. We also have had a lot of birthdays, Sophia turned 3, Rozano turned 14 and Ronaldo turned 17! So lots of cake and braais! I want a braai for my next birthday!






In other news, this week was also very interesting. On Nov 21-22 there was a taxi strike. This shut down the city due to safety, so it was a day at home. Yonga was directly affected by this so she had to pull a double and caught the taxi before the strike started at 2:30 am, and came home at 12:30 am. Also, students take taxis to school, so no students were able to get to school.

As time has passed, I am getting more homesick. I miss the luxuries that we have such as air conditioning, feeling completely safe with my belongings (robbery), laundry machines, having my own room, and my parent’s hugs. Also, since going away for trips coming home hasn’t been the same. I have felt emotionally disrupted. I sometimes feel on edge about how much or how little I am eating, not having alone time because knocking doesn’t exist, and being self-conscious about how much water I use to shower or to do laundry. All silly things, but it is anxiety-provoking because I want to be respectful and not ask for much.

On another note, I have also learned a lot about townships. I learned that the people who live in the township are either unemployed or making less than 2,500 rand, which is the minimum wage in South Africa, ($147 per month). I also learned that people in the township are desperate to make money so they will cut down the power lines and burn the rubber off the lines and then sell the copper, which also increases the need for load shedding. They will steal the water faucets for the copper, license plates, car decals, and train tracks, which has caused a decrease in public trains. The biggest township in Cape Town, Khayelitsha (which means “new home”) houses 1.2 million people in a 10 square-mile radius, which is the number of people that live in Dallas, Texas. The government has recently started putting porta-potties on the outskirts to help with sanitation. I also learned that during election time, politicians go into townships and tell the people how they will help them, yet when they become in office they don’t do anything, leading to an increasing number of townships. Also, there are cattle and children that are completely unsupervised. As I have learned more about these living conditions it has weighed deeply on my heart. I feel helpless and fearful.

To leave you on a happier note, I have noticed, since Hudson arrived that I have picked up a colored mentality like yelling across the house, licking my plate at the end of dinner, and incorporating lingo like, “awwww mannnn.”

I hope this reaches you well and enjoyed the life update here in Cape Town!

Khuluma ngokushesha (talk soon in zulu, an African language)

Elephant hug at an Elephant outreach (I also fed the elephants and touched their tongue, it was similar to ours – soft and slobbery)

Spooky season meets Africa

Hello friends and family! Here is your life update from Cape Town, South Africa! Life here has been full of adventure lately! I have enjoyed the warmth, or should I say HEAT! It’s a battle to stay out of the sun because the UV index is getting up to 10! This week I started with a Cape Town FC soccer game at the DHL stadium! They WON, so it was a crazy environment! The locals say the Cape Town FC fans go “APE IN THE CAPE” because they are crazy!

We now have two new members at the school! Mr. Anthony brought two female geese to the school. The children love the geese and have learned a lot about coexisting with other animals. I also started working in one of the gardens because I couldn’t hold myself back any longer. I cleaned up the dead leaves and trash, as well as propagated some leaves to make more plants. I even brought three plants home to grow in my room. I am a crazy plant mom at home, and I miss all my plants! It is so fun to get my hands dirty and help Mr. Anthony out in the garden in my free time. I truly cherish the relationships I have built with the staff at school. Every morning I say hi to the staff, specifically using their names to remember who they are. I realized that I really appreciated Dawn greeting me with, “Good morning Rachel” as I walk into school. Because she uses my name, it makes me feel loved; I didn’t realize the power of remembering someone’s name. Having a relationship with the staff makes me look forward to going to school for not only the children, but also the staff.

Art galleries on the first Thursday of the month

Another fun thing I did was visited several art galleries on Nov 5th. On the first Thursday of every month, local art galleries hold a late-night event from 5-9 pm to let people come through and enjoy the artwork. Then we went to the SALT factory, which had a local pop-up thrift shop.




Halloween at school (Halloween is becoming more popular, but no trick or treating due to safety)

Friday, Nov 4th, the school celebrated Halloween. The staff and students dressed up and had snacks and sweets to purchase. So no school, just sugar rushes! The costumes were so cute! (There were a lot of Spiderman, witches, and princesses). Although I did not dress up, my hat made me look like a tourist, so I said I dressed up as a tourist!


Meeting Sarah Sponcil and Terese Cannon after they beat Brazil in the semi-finals

Lastly, this weekend was event packed! I went to the Beach Pro Volleyball Tour. I watched 3 US women’s teams compete. I even met Sarah Sponcil (who competed in the Olympics in Tokyo) and Terese Cannon, the team took silver in the tournament! I also won a signed US jersey because of my epic dance moves!

USA women’s beach volleyball signed jerseyUSA women’s beach volleyball signed jersey

Red Bull track for the box cart racing in Bo-Kaap







Then Sunday, Nov 6th, I went to Red Bull’s box cart racing in Bo-Kaap. 57 teams competed and built engine-less cars that were less than 80kg (176 lbs). It was such a fun day! I also went to the University of Cape Town on Monday. It was beautiful and reminded me of California because of the red clay roofing.



Cape Town University

I have felt emotionally sound, but I am already dreading the bittersweet feeling of going home. Auntie V has said, “your goodbye will be harder than the others because you’ve been here so much longer and are a part of our family.” This trip will always have such a huge place in my heart. I cannot believe that I will be in the states in less than 75 days! I am very emotionally attached to my host family. I even get to bathe and dress Sophia in the evenings to give Jade a break.

Mrs. Jacobs is a new member in the picture. She comes in and helps with behavioral issues at the school. I have spoken with her a handful of times and enjoyed sitting in on her lessons. One lesson was about inappropriate behavior. These children often touch and speak inappropriately to others and staff. I learned a lot of these children are abused at home. It is so hard to imagine what their home life is like. I also learned that some of the children carry forks, kitchen knives, or scissors with them at all times. Although weapons are not allowed at school, they carry these items because where they live is not safe, and need something to defend themselves. It is so hard to imagine what all these kids have gone through. It is our responsibility at school to help teach them boundaries and respect for authority and peers. I told the kids that I was setting a loving boundary and didn’t want hugs anymore because I had a bunch of bites on my back. We assume they are flea bites from the children’s clothes. I had one student who asked, “Are you still doing that loving boundary thing?” I laughed a little and said, “yes, thank you so much for remembering.”

Something I have learned is how South Africans speak to each other is much harsher than I am used to. In addition to louder voices, even shouting across the house to get someone’s attention, they speak more bluntly. Knowing my host family’s hearts makes me feel better when they say something in a blunt tone. For example, the janitor, Mr. Davids, said “you didn’t close the door to the storage room again, why did you leave it open even after I told you to close it?” WOW! I felt terrible and immediately apologized. The next morning I said, “good morning,” not sure how he would take it after yelling at me. But he was like, “hi, how’r (how are) you?” It made me realize not to take things personally.

Hudson landed in the Cape Town Airport after traveling for 38 hours

As this term wraps up and the students take finals, I welcomed a visitor! Hudson comes to town and I get to show him my new home! Also, please to check out my video that I made of the first 3 months here! https://youtu.be/gbtOcbvPMmU

Tune in next time!

Birthday Season!

Hello again! I hope everyone is doing well, hopefully, it’s not too cold

Glass from the soccer field at school

there. We are headed into the summer months, so it is heating up here! Some days it gets up to 30C (86F), which is hot when you’re in the sun all day. I have started to hold PT under the tarp to keep myself and the kids out of direct sunlight. We also play soccer almost every day because it’s so hard to tell boys that we cannot play soccer. However, all of the children here refuse to wear their shoes, it is a battle to get them to keep their shoes on. On the soccer field, there are broken beer bottles that have been thrown over the fence, so I have picked up at least 25 handfuls of glass to try and keep the kids from being cut by glass.

Dessert from Auntie V’s birthday celebration

It’s birthday season here! They take birthdays very seriously here! Auntie V’s birthday kicked us off on October 23rd (but who are we kidding, we celebrated the whole month of October). We had a whole day braii, starting at 9am and ending in the evening with a food coma. Since lunch was so filling, desserts were for dinner. We had peppermint tart, cake, ice cream cupcakes, trifle (a Christmas dessert), and I made apple crumble. I did not pace myself well enough. I was so

Indoor braai

uncomfortable because I had eaten too much. Everyone warned me that Christmas will be “worse” as in there will be even more food. I have never been so excited about Christmas. I also have never had Christmas away from my immediate family, so I am sad I won’t see them for the holidays. The month of November is also big for birthdays. We have Rozano’s 14th birthday on November 22nd and Sophia’s 3rd and Ronaldo’s 17th birthday on November 27th. So we will have braai’s for their birthdays as well.

Speak of going home. Tomorrow marks the halfway mark. I have been here for 87 days. I feel so at home and comfortable. I am so thankful I am staying for such an extended period because this

Hair types that Yonga taught me

allows me to get settled in. I also have a new roommate, Yonga, the long-term guest at the house. She moved into my room so Auntie V could repaint the other room and make room for other guests. It is fun to have a roommate, but it also has its challenges. For example, Yonga works 2-10pm. So, she comes home around 12am and I get up to go to school at 7am. Yonga has been such a cool friend. We have done bible studies together and she took me to church with her this weekend. It was the first time I had physically gone to church since I came to Cape Town. I want to try out a few other churches as well. Yonga has explained to me the perspective of black women in Cape Town. I learned that there are areas where she doesn’t feel comfortable due to her skin color. She has also taught me about the different types of hair. She has 4B/4C which is super tight curls, while I have 1C/2A, which is wavy/straight. Having different types of hair means we have different routines.

Another thing I learned is what a cowboy shower and bucket shower is. In addition to load shedding, they have water shedding, which is no water, or day zero, which is 5L per person per day (1.321 gallons), and when that runs out, there is no more water. That water is for bathing, drinking, and cooking. So, plenty of people would have to budget to buy water from the store, and that becomes very expensive. The most recent water shedding and day zeros with limited water were 6 years ago. During this time, you had to take what is called a bucket shower. This is where you get a 3L bucket of warm water and soap yourself up then rinse with that water. A cowboy shower is when you only wash your face, fanny, and feet. I will try a bucket shower before I leave! Crazy how water and electricity have to be used sparingly. I will take a bucket shower before I go!

On another note, there is a boy at school that works at the local fruit

Giving food to Lamique

Giving food to Lamique

stand that we go to for our apple to make the apple crisp. He is in one of my classes. He is always dirty and has a runny nose. He lives in what is called the flay, which is a squatter camp. They are sheds that people put up, similar to townships. They do not have running water and the children are not looked after. His name is Lamique and he has 7 brothers and sisters. Auntie V has started making him lunch for me to bring to school. It is so cute when I give him the food, he was shocked the first few times, but now he asks where his food is. He usually puts it in his backpack as fast as he can so no one takes it.

I hope you guys stay warm as you head into winter! Also, happy Halloween! They don’t do anything for Halloween here. People always ask if I ever dressed up and went from house to house. The people here can’t believe that you go to a stranger’s house to ask for candy. The houses here all have at least one gate before getting to the front door. We have two gates for safety.

Also, here is a picture of the words that they use here! I have been compiling a list of them during my time so far!

New words!

Spring Break Adventures

Meeting up with Nori at the World Cup of Field Hockey after playing Ireland

Hi everyone! I’m back! Here’s the update... Last week I was on spring break! Crazy how it is flipped due to the change in the climate. My spring break started by going to the World Cup Field Hockey Tournament for women and men 50+. My friend Nori Smith plays on the 55+ team. It was so much fun cheering her on! Hearing people speak with an American accent sounded foreign, so weird how I have gotten used to the South African accents. I watched USA versus Ireland and USA versus South Africa. I also cheered on the USA men’s team. Fortunately, Hinse, the other volunteer at the host family, loves field hockey and was explaining all the rules to me!

Outside the courthouse with the “NON-WHITE” benches

Later in the week Hinse and I went on a free walking tour downtown. I learned a little more about the apartheid and the different classes of people. For example, the black population was not recognized as a citizen. There were a few tests to see if you were “black.” One was the pencil test, which is where you put a pencil in your hair and shake your head. If it stayed in your hair, you were black, therefore could not be a citizen. We even saw benches that were recreated to replicate the “WHITES ONLY” and “NON-WHITE” benches.

I also learned a little more about District 6. This area was predominantly African Muslims. The government also did not recognize this group of people as citizens. However, the African Muslims who lived in district 6 was pushed out of the area and the houses were torn down. Even if you were still in the house, they were going to bulldoze the area. The government promised them that they would get reimbursed, but to this day no one ever saw any reimbursement or development on that land. I have plans of going to the district 6 museum which was created by people who lived in that area. They brought clothes, tables, newsletters, and anything they could find to bring to the museum so that this history would be preserved.

14 piece wood arch outside of the parliament

Another interesting fact I learned was that an arch symbolizes strength, similar to the St. Louis Arch. The arch, that is pictured below, has 14 strands of wood that symbolizes the 14 chapters of the South African constitution. The arch is also found next to St. George’s Cathedral, where Archbishop Desmond Tutu was known for his campaigns regarding the apartheid.

Hinse and I also went on another hike to Newlands Forest. It was so nice to get out, but the heat is coming!

Last week was the first week back to school. I didn’t know how much I missed the kids. We have now formed a relationship of mutual respect. For instance, they do not fight (as much) when playing soccer because they know there will be consequences (going back to class and missing the rest of the PT). I have set loving boundaries to help everyone have more fun, and it has helped PT to run smoother and more enjoyable.

I also have exciting news! I recently accepted a job at Vanderbilt University Medical Center on floor 5S in the Cardiovascular Progressive Care unit. I will start on February 27th, 2023. This will allow me enough time to get settled and move back to Nashville. When people ask where I am from, I proudly say, Tennessee! It feels so good calling Tennessee home! I also signed a lease on an apartment in Nashville, so it’s official, I’M COMING BACK!

Having to interview at 8 or 9 pm was comical. I would shout to the house, “I’M JUMPING ON AN INTERVIEW NOW” so they would know to be quiet. I am so glad that is over and I can mentally prepare to work as a nurse! Planning the new job, and apartment and the logistics of furniture have all made me a little homesick. I am so excited about these exciting decisions and have struggled to stay where my feet are. I am on a trip of a lifetime, I need to stay present-

Painting by Johannes Phokela at the Zeitz Museum

minded and enjoy my time here. I try to have grace with myself because I can’t always be present-minded. Being away from home has made me appreciate things back home.

I also went to the Zeitz Mocaa Art Museum, and that was amazing! One of the exhibits, by Johannes Phokela, expressed how blacks were treated by whites before the apartheid. It was very difficult to look at, but it was beautiful at the same time. Those paintings express history without using words.




Lastly, today (Monday, October 17th), we had nurses come to the school to give vaccinations. It was very interesting because they did not use gloves and charted on paper. I picked the nurse’s brains about their job and experience. Nurses here are called “sisters,” which is neat. It was such a fun and unique opportunity. It made me excited and a little nervous to be a nurse!

Table at the nurses station at the school

Well, until next time! Hope you’re enjoying the fall weather and changing leaves, I am sad I am missing my favorite season, so appreciate it a little more for me!

Home town activities

Rozano’s soccer championship (Rozano is the second from the right)

Hello everyone! It’s been two weeks since I posted last! Can you believe it! Time is flying by! I am already a third done with my trip! Over the last two weeks, I have had a lot of downtime. Wow, I am so thankful for downtime! A new volunteer came to stay with us last week. His name is Hinse, he is from Belgium and staying for six months, so we will be buddies for the rest of my trip! Lately, I have been a part of more local events. My host brother had a soccer championship, but unfortunately, he lost in the finals. But it was so fun to cheer him on!

The other major event in the last two weeks was the school concert. It has been so cute watching the kids devote so much time and energy to their daily practice. The kids sang, danced, and read poems. The children here come out of the womb with rhythm in their feet, it is so impressive. I was a part of the teacher’s dance, and let me tell ya, I do NOT have rhythm! It was fun because all the kids were shouting, “Coach, coach, coach!” I felt like a celebrity! The parents were CRAZY

School concert

for their kids, a very different environment than a concert in America. The parents were shouting, dancing, and running to the front of the stage to take videos. They did not just sit back and clap when it was over! I absolutely loved every minute of the concert. I felt like I was one of the proud parents in the stands. All of the kids did such an amazing job! 



Traditional braai lunch for teacher appreciation week


We also had an end-of-the-term braai, aka bbq. We were celebrating the student teachers’ leaving and teacher appreciation week. The food consisted of boerewors (like a brat), chicken, potato salad, green salad, garlic bread, and a cool drink (aka soda). WOW, it was so delicious! 


Lastly, Hinse and I took the two host brothers, Ronaldo (16) and Rozano (13), out for a hike. Hinse and I, yet again, felt like parents taking our kids out for an adventure. It was so cute watching them look around in the car because they hadn’t been to Muizenberg. And of course, to make us really feel like parents, they complained and asked, “how much longer is the hike?”

Boomslang Cave hike in Muizenberg


Some personal trials and tribulations I didn’t know I would encounter include eating different foods and exercising. As a retired division 1 athlete, I was used to working out often, but I can’t go to the gym or go on a run. I tried to tell myself that, I will work out when I get home, this is

Apple crisp

only a season of life. But the more I told myself that, I just paid more attention to how my body was changing. So I started doing HITT workouts in my room. The more I did them, the better my mental health felt. I realized how important it is for me to move my body and break a sweat. I am also not in control of what food I eat. We eat a lot of white bread because it is a cheap source of energy. For breakfast, instead of eating toast, I eat something called “Maze-meal” or “pup” for slang, (it is like grits). I didn’t grow up eating grits, so I didn’t know I would enjoy them as much as I do. We eat BIG dinners and have dessert often, which has been amazing! I even made an apple crisp for the family! In the last two weeks, I have made it three times, it is an absolute hit! 


Hope you enjoyed this short summary of the past two-week, tune in next time! 

Grade R (kindergarten) boys during PT

Cape Town quirks

Hello again! These past few weeks have been very laid-back. It has allowed me to read other Lumos travelers’ blogs and enjoy the slow life here. I have also been introduced to some of the challenges of living in Cape Town, such as expensive electricity and water shut-offs. Due to the cost of electricity, the host family turns the hot water on for 4 hours a day, so you have that specific time to shower. In addition, something called “load shedding” is where the electricity in a district turns off for a set amount of time. This is to decrease the financial burden that electricity has on the government. It was fun the first week because we would put our phones away and play cards in the dark. However, as this becomes a reoccurring thing, sometimes three times a day for two hours, it has become very inconvenient. There was also a local pipe burst, so we did not have running water a day, some parts of the city were without running water all week. It makes me appreciate constant hot water and electricity.

Load shedding schedule for the week (subject to change)

Playing cards in the dark during load shedding












The new member of the school

In other news, this week I made it a goal to get to know the staff around school, so here is an introduction to the staff. Dawn, the school janitor, checks on me every day! I missed a day last week, and the next day she made sure to find me and ask if I was alright. Mrs. Samsondeen, the chef in the kitchen, offers me to try the food with the kids. They often have a lot of rice, lentils, mince (beef), and liver. Mr. Anthony, a resource teacher, who takes care of the gardens, janitor duties, and discipline has also been welcoming. He recently brought a pet goose to the school! I also found out they also have pet rabbits. Mr. Anthony’s purpose for beginning animals and planting gardens is to teach the kids how to treat other living things. The children have been taught to kill any animal that comes into their path. Mr. Anthony also told me about a conversation he had with a child. He asked the child “where do eggs come from?”, and they replied, “Well the shop n’ pay, of course.” Mr. Anthony’s goal is to teach the kids that food comes from animals and gardens. Mr. Capp, the school librarian, has been helpful when I need a book to read with the kids. Mrs. Winegard, the principal, and Mrs. Wentzel, the receptionist, are always so nice when I arrive at school. Since I am at the school for a long period of time, it has been nice to get to know the staff better because it makes it feel more like home. 


One of three goodbyes..

Last week was the last week for two of the volunteers, so we enjoyed spending time together. We went to the Mojo market, Seapoint beach, and Bo-Kapp. Saying goodbye was way harder than I expected. I have known Daan for 5 weeks and Kato for 3 weeks, how could I be terribly sad to say goodbye? But after some reflection, I realized that not only do we spend every waking moment together, but we also created a unique connection. Since we are all traveling as solo travelers, we lean on each other in times of stress, sadness, and happiness. The connection with these three volunteers is unforgettable and I hope to travel to Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands to visit them one day!

Enjoying a Samosa in Bo-Kapp



On Monday, September 12th, I went into town to apply for a visa extension. As a tourist, you are allowed a 90 visa, but to stay longer you need to apply for a 90-day extension. This has been a tedious process, but everything was turned in and now I just wait to hear back. After my appointment, I decided to explore the city center by myself. I have been nervous to explore alone, but I was inspired by my mom, who will be exploring England, Belgium, and Germany by herself in October while my dad works. If she can travel by herself, I can too! While walking by myself, I didn’t know what to think about or which way to go. I got to choose how fast I walked, where I stopped to eat, how long I took to eat, etc. It was a refreshing and rewarding feeling. During this time, I did some reflecting. Here is what I learned:

  • What I am doing is crazy! Crazy cool and crazy awesome but also just crazy! I downplayed the fact that I had moved to South Africa because it is the wealthiest country in Africa and very westernized. But I reminded myself that it doesn’t change how difficult this trip is. I am alone, in another country, 8,500 miles away from home. That is nothing small! So I am very proud of myself for going on a trip like this. I have learned to give myself more grace when it comes to being sad or anxious.
  • Growth stinks! It is uncomfortable and overwhelming, but as I have grown over the last five years, I love who I have become! I am proud of my accomplishments and the relationships I have made. Growth is so necessary!
  • Being still is not easy for a busybody like me! I always had something to do in college, between practice, eating on the fly, and school. But while I have been here, I have been able to slow down. When I feel the need to get up and do something, I have challenged myself to stay still a little longer. It has been uncomfortable, but very recharging. 


People have been asking what the culture is like, and that is a good question! Some of the things I have learned about the culture here include:

  • Time is slow, family is important, physical space is little, and sharing is often. 
  • The pace of life is kind of like flying by the seat of your pants and letting the wind take you where you need to go. For example, Auntie V decides what to make for dinner at 1 pm each day, and always has food ready by 5:30 pm! 
  • Family is so important! I have witnessed the love and respect that each of the family members has for one another. For example, Jade told me about an amazing job opportunity she had but turned it down because it was more important to her that she spends weekends with her daughter than the pay raise. 
  • Diverse cultures are very accepted. The terms for different races include, colored (an olive skin color), black, and white. Also, there is a large Muslim population. They were originally brought over by the British for slavery and confined to the Bo-Kapp area. After the apartheid, they expanded beyond that area and have grown communities all over the Western Cape (which is one of the providences of South Africa). 
  • Teachers at lower-funded, government schools have a stronger relationship with their students. These children may not have a strong support system at home, so the teachers play a big role in their support system. This creates a less professional and more familial environment. Teachers speak to the children in a motherly/fatherly tone, rather than what I am used to in the US. I am so glad I am here for an extended period because it allows me to form strong relationships with the kids, much like the teachers. However, as I have seen the volunteers leave, it makes leaving that much harder. So thank goodness, I still have four months left! 
  • The kids are also so willing to help and share! I have been impressed with the number of students that come up and offer me the food they are eating. It is hard to say no because they feel offended, but I know they need that food to fill their bellies. 


Sorry, this was a little long, I hope you enjoy the update!