Photo by Teresa Rafidi

Photo by Teresa Rafidi

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Running, Reading, and Rejuvenating. . . This Post Has Been Brought To You by the Letter “R”

A Race to the Finish. . . (article by Woody)

Woo Hoo!!  Great job Woody!
On March 25th, the last day of school for the first quarter of this year, we headed to Sabie to attend the Longtom Marathon and KLM Foundation fundraising event. Over 2,000 people registered to run both the 21K and the 56K Ultra marathon and 1653 people completed the race. Representing the Peace Corps contingent, we had about 60 current and former volunteers and a few family and friends registered for the race, including the 7 PCVs registered for the 56K Ultra. After spending a fairly quiet evening catching up with the other PCVs and their guests that were staying at the backpackers, we had a short meeting to find out what the plan and schedule was for the race the following day and to get the goody bags from the race sponsors including KLM and Longtom shirts, sport bottles, and most importantly our racing tags. After that most of us headed to bed early, because the race started the following morning at 6:00am.

The next morning, we were all up around 4:30am, to have enough time to grab a quick bite and contemplate the overcast and rainy pre-dawn skies before walking across the street to the meeting point at the local high school assembly hall where the race registration was being completed. By 5:15, gathered at the hall, we got to see all the other runners and walkers, some of whom had stayed in Sabie at other accommodations and some who had driven in just that morning. Shortly after that, the 22K group was rounded up, loaded onto buses, and driven up to their starting point at the top of the route. The rest of the runners in the 56K milled about wondering if the rain would let up long enough for us to start the race. At 6:00am, we all left the shelter of the hall to gather on the main road at the starting point. At 6:15, after a few brief announcements, the starting gun went off, and just over 1,000 slightly rain-soaked runners started up the hill, around the bend, and on our way out of Sabie on the road to Lydenburg.

And we are off!

I don't have much to compare it to, not having run any races prior to Longtom, but the route, the scenery, and the weather were about as close to perfect as I could ask for. Once we were out of Sabie, we got out from under the rain, and spent most of the run to the top actually running through the clouds hanging on that side of the mountain. It made for pleasant, cool running without being too slippery. It also obscured the view of the uphill road ahead of us, which was a relief for me; I'd rather not see the hills I have to climb ahead of me, and just focus on the few yards I can see just in front of me. When we did reach a break in the fog, the view of the valley far below and the mountains in the distance was almost distracting. It was so lush and green it reminded me a bit of the drive up Waimea Canyon in Kauai, but in some parts was so heavily wooded that it also reminded me of traveling through parts of Oregon and Washington State. I just have to keep in mind that the start at Sabie is about 3300 feet above sea level, so the route to the top at about 7000 feet above sea level is well above anything I've traveled on foot before.

After the first 5K or so, we started seeing the refreshment stands along the roadside every 1K to 2K after that. And what a relief that was; water, sport drinks, soda, bananas and orange slices, baked potato wedges, gummy-bears, candy-bar bits, and - if you really needed the protein – biltong and braaied boerewors (think jerky and grilled bratwurst ;o). There is no way the little we could eat for breakfast and whatever we had for dinner the night before was going to keep us going for the length of the run, so these snacks along the way were essential to continuing the run. And with the stands came all the volunteers from the different sponsors of the run, not only providing refreshments, but also cheering us on, encouraging us, and even saving the environment by cleaning up the litter from the runners that missed the trash bins along the roadside. In addition to the stands, there were also escort, safety, and emergency vehicles making rounds alongside the runners to make sure there weren't any problems along the way.

Once we reached the top of the mountain, at 34K into the run, everything changed. That side of the mountain was sunny though still cool and breezy, clear, and seemed to be mostly relatively flat farmland and fields in large patches, so you could see far down the road ahead of you. And aside from a few short uphill sections, it really was mostly downhill from there.

Woody with Principal Mathebula and his son.
About 10K from the end of the route Lydenburg came into view in the distance, and at the far end of town I could just make out a set of large grain-silos. I started to think “I really hope we don't have to run all the way down there. . .” Wrong! That's exactly where the high school and finish line were. By that point, it was just a matter of keeping on putting one foot in front of the other, running or walking, down the winding hill road, into and through town, then turning one corner after another until the finish was in sight. As one runner yelled to Robin upon reaching the school gate, “will this race never end?!” But before you knew it, it was over. And there waiting at the finish was Robin along with a wonderful cheering crowd of PCVs, as well as the incredibly supportive Principal Mathebula from our host Primary school, who had not only come out with his family to see the race, but drove Robin the long way around from Sabie to Lydenburg to get to the finish and watch the runners coming in! I came in at 7h 27m and 54sec and placed 720th which put me just under the 8 hour cut off for the race.

After checking out at the finish line, we got a quick bite to eat from the vendors at the finish before packing up to catch the bus back to Sabie. There a quick shower and a hearty meal awaited, followed by awards and recognition for the top fundraisers and the runners with the best times in each category. After that, we were able to unwind a bit before calling it a day; some of the PCVs were heading out for a few days of camping or hiking the next day, others were going back to site for a few days before going to the week-long LST sessions in Pretoria, and still other - like us - were heading out for longer vacations over the early fall break. Botswana and Zambia, here we come!

We want to thank those of you who sent in your generous donations in support of Woody for the Longtom Marathon. Special thanks to Tracy Ryan, Helen-Marie Al-haddad, Anonymous donor whoever you are, Beth Caple, Stephanie Smith, Ben and Rhoda Hill, Sam and Tanya Hill, Carl Skibell, Arthur Skibell, Joe & Cely Alhaddad, and Elizabeth Mecchi-Sanders. Because of your support, we were able to raise over USD $800 for the KLM Foundation!!

Group photo of all the PCVs who ran the Longtom

The “Big Five” Reader Awards (article by Robin)

Last term, I thought that it would be a good idea to start a Reading Rewards program at Library-A in order to rejuvenate the kids' interest in reading. The competition was called the “Big Five Readers” and I made a chart for each grade that looks like a race track with clip art of the “Big Five” animals on the track to show progression of who is winning. Each of the top five readers for each grade was assigned to one of the Big Five animals and I was tracking their progression of points each week on the race track. In the program, I'm was awarding more points per book depending on the level of difficulty. For example, if a student read five children's story books they would earn 5 points and if another student read one Level 1 Junior Novel they would also earn 5 points, and so on. The students were required to complete book report questionnaire sheets to prove that they actually read the story. With the help of a community volunteer who is working at the library after-school, the competition was a success. She assisted me with distributing and collecting the book report questionnaire sheets to the learners during the competition and with distributing the certificates and awards at the end of the program.

Receiving a certificate for being one of the Big Five Readers

At the end of the month-long competition, the winners were announced during school assembly and awarded certificates along with some donated prizes. We had 96 students participate in the Reading Rewards Program and we gave awards to the top 5 students for grades 3 to 7. Our highest winner was a grade 7 boy who earned 67 points. The second highest was a grade 7 girl who earned 62 points. The kids were all very excited to receive their certificates and they are all anxious to do the competition again. I'm hoping to be able to make this an annual competition at the school. 

Group photos of all the Big Five winners
Group photos of all the Big Five winners

AIDS in Art (article by Robin)

In commemoration of World AIDS Day, we asked the kids in the Art Club after-school program to create artwork representing the fight against HIV/AIDS. It was a chance for them to express some of their feeling about an epidemic that is affecting a large part of our village and community. South Africa is one of the countries most severely affected by the AIDS epidemic, with the largest number of people infected with HIV in the world. UNAIDS estimated that in 2009, the total number of persons living with HIV in South Africa was 5.7 million which is about 12% of South Africa's population. Our province, Mpumalanga has the second highest rate of HIV and AIDS in SA with an estimated 34% of the population (2009). The impact that this epidemic has on children is devastating. Due to a sizable rate of HIV/AIDS in the village, the parent mortality rate is exceedingly high leaving behind many orphans and vulnerable children. Here are a few of my favorite pieces from the assignment:

George (age 13) - "Think Positive"

Goodman (Age 14)  - "HIV is our kill my parents"

Rector (Age 12)

Kunhle (Age 12)

Getaway in Botswana and Zambia (article by Robin)

Elephant in Chobe National Park - Botswana
After the Longtom race, we had a break between school terms. So, we took a small camping trip to Botswana and Victoria Falls Zambia. It was a nice break from school and a fun way to spend my 35th birthday. We went to the Okavango Delta in Botswana, Chobe National Park also in Botswana, and Victoria Falls in Livingstone, Zambia. Victoria Falls is supposed to be one of the “Seven Natural Wonders of the World.” We saw a ton of game animals especially elephants (no pun intended). We had a nice time taking a relaxing mokoro ride (traditional Botswanan dug out canoe) along the Okavango Delta. We went on an open-vehicle game drive inside Chobe National Park and an afternoon boat cruise. And enjoyed our dinners under the African stars. We also got to see the Zambian side of Victoria Falls. The waterfall is 1700 meters (1.1 mile) wide, and spans across both Zambia and Zimbabwe. We also got to do a sunset dinner cruise on the Zambezi River which is the 4th largest river in Africa. And got to camp near some ancient and huge Baobab trees.

It wasn't all fun and game though. We did some rugged camping in the Okovongo Delta with no facilities. There were no fences, no running water, no showers, no buildings and no electricity. We had to use a very basic pit toilet – peeing into a hole in the ground is not as easy as it sounds. We also had wild elephants, warthogs, and vervet monkeys which all walked through our various campsites at night at different times and that was a little crazy. We also took a four-hour hiking tour in the Delta that was murder on my feet. Not to mention the ant infestations at two of the campsites which was not fun at all! Between the ants, mosquito bites, blisters, and the big toenail that I pulled, my feet looked like a war zone by the end of it all.

But, overall we did get to see some amazing things on our trip and for the most part we enjoyed it. If you want to check out more photos from our trip, go to our: Picasa Web Album

1 comment:

MadagascarAdam said...

Awesome! Sounds like some GREAT stuff has been happening for you guys! I'm really excited to know the Reading Rewards is going well and Lora's thrilled. Do you think you'll do it just once a year or even every term (or twice a year)? Also, how's the Art Club doing these days? Are George and Floyd still heavily involved? Have you guys had the chance to do any pottery yet?

I'm also very jealous of your Vic Falls / Botswana tripe. Sounds like an awesome time! One of these days (though maybe not this year) - we'll be there too. Would you advise going during more or less rain... i.e. was the time you went a good time or is there a better time?

Well, thanks for keeping us up-to-date and keep up the good work!

Oh, by the way, how's Woody's computer classes going? Are they up-and-running yet, or still messing with all the power supply issues?