The Perfect Shot

2 05 2012

I still have blog ideas to recap my travels in South Africa, and posts/pictures from Cape Town are coming soon, I promise!  Here’s a little story for you to hold you over for now:

On our last night in Johannesburg, we were over a teacher’s house for dinner.  Johannesburg is very hilly, and I was sitting near the front of the van on our way back to the school/boarding house.  You could see lightning miles away and since the whole city is so elevated, the lightning and thunderstorms are that much more beautiful. I turned to Sana (one of my fellow student teachers) and told her that my new goal as a photographer was to get the perfect picture of lightning. We got home and I literally ran out of the bus to go to my room and grab my camera.  I wanted to get as many shots as possible before it actually started raining (it was only drizzling at this point).

Now, I’m no professional photographer.  I have a nice camera and know how to use some features for the main photography that I do (dance and food), but shooting outside and especially lightning, are not my forte.  So I stood outside for about fifteen to twenty minutes playing around with different settings and just clicked away every time I got the sky light up.  If I had a tripod it would have made things much easier, but I didn’t, so I had to make do.  I took a LOT of pictures. I got a lot of shots of the black sky, and two good shots. But I’m really happy with them, and of course, with editing, the pictures will be even better.  But here they are, unedited, and I’m very proud of them.  I’m thinking I should make some kind of ‘photography bucket list’ since I set the goal and achieved it all in the same day.  I only hope that the next time I encounter such great lightning storms as the ones in South Africa, I’m ready with my camera and know what to do!



18 03 2012

Alright, so I’m a little slow to updating this blog, but I’ve been trying to get so many things done since I’ve been home in the States.  I’m going to try to update as much as possible in the next two weeks and then I can go back to sharing with you all the great things I’ve been cooking! 🙂

Since I’ve been back I’ve been catching up with a lot of people about what I’ve been doing in South Africa, and most importantly, what I’ve been eating!  Johannesburg has a wealth of great restaurants, and because of the great exchange rate, everything is VERY inexpensive compared to the States.  Where we lived, we were surrounded by shopping plazas and areas with plenty of restaurants to choose from.  Each week we got to go to a different restaurant and got chances to get some authentic South African food as well.  I’ll try to include as many photos as possible (I love to take pictures of everything I eat) and describe what it is.


One of my favorite parts about Johannesburg was the freshness of fish there and for everyone’s love of sushi, which is one of my all-time favorite foods.  You could get sushi at any restaurant, be it Italian, Brazilian, or even South African.  Sana and I got a chance to go to an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant one weekend for lunch, which was less than $10 US for all you can eat – and the sushi was prepared fresh and went around on this little river – so cool!

All you can eat sushi going around the little river

Yummy salmon california rolla


One evening we got a chance to go to Rodizio, a Brazilian steakhouse, or known as a churrascaria.  For about $18 [converted to US from South African Rand] we got an all you can eat meat meal, where restaurant workers come around with over 20 different types and cuts of meat – pork, lamb, chicken, and beef.  You get a little ticker that is red on one side and green on the other; as long as you keep the green up, the servers will just keep coming and offering you meat.  In addition, we got endless chips [aka fries], butternut squash mash, and creamed spinach.  Yum!  I of course had to have a caipirinha while I was there, a signature Brazilian drink, in honor of the caipirinhas my mom and I drank while we were in Brazil a few years ago.

Butternut squash mash at the Brazilian restaurant

South African

We got some chances to have South African and other African-region inspired foods.  One of the first weeks we went to a real braai in one of the South African townships in Alexandra.  We got sides of vegetables which included pap, a cornmeal-based dish, chakalaka, sliced carrots with beans and peppers, a tomato relish (eaten with mayonnaise) and roasted potatoes.  We got to choose meat to braai and had chicken, boerwors (a type of sausage) and ox liver, which was surprisingly really good. Our friend Funky also had us over for dinner for some traditional food, and it was an amazing experience to have a home-cooked South African meal.

Vegetable side dishes at a South African restaurant

All different kinds of meat at the braai!


South African family dinner!

At Moyo’s, an African-inspired cuisine restaurant, we had some Tunisian bread appetizer and some of the other girls had ostrich and springbok (a type of gazelle).  The more flashy South African restaurants also come around and do face painting which is definitely a fun experience!  Moyo’s also had their wait staff do a dance during the evening which was great!  See the video here. [LINK]  At Lekgotla, a South African restaurant in Nelson Mandela Square, I got a fantastically marinated lamb shank and it was served with pap  and chakalaka.  Yum!

Tunisian bread appetizer


Fish tagine at Moyo's


Cape Town boasts a number of ethnically-inspired foods and we went to an Ethiopian restaurant our first night in Cape Town.  I’ve never been to Ethiopian food before, and it’s all about the experience.  You eat with your hands for the appetizers and the entrees and everything is served with this type of bread, which is similar to a crepe but a little bit thicker.  We ordered a number of vegetarian and meat dishes and the wait staff pours everything out onto the bread and then you eat it all with your hands.  It really enriches the eating experience, and the bread soaks up all the food and juices and it’s fantastic.  They also do a traditional coffee ceremony (which we opted out of), but I did get some coffee which they serve with popcorn.

All of our dishes on top of the bread-type stuff!

Coffee and popcorn Ethiopian dessert


While we were in South Africa we got a chance to go to so many different restaurants.  Each week we picked a different place – here are some photos from Thai, Indian, and various Italian restaurants that we went to.  I would say one of my favorite parts about being in South Africa was getting the opportunity to eat out so much (since I don’t eat out much at home) and have great food at such a low cost.  The most surprising thing to me is that I got to eat out so much and still lost weight! =)  …although I attribute that to healthy eating (more healthier than how I eat in the States) and also a pretty decent workout regiment.

Until next time!


Deep fried ice cream with a chocolate dipping sauce

Fantastic burger at a restaurant in Cape Town

Butternut squash ravioli = heavenly

Chicken pad thai in the cutest serving dishes!

Seafood pasta with mussels, calamari, and shrimp in Cape Town

A curry chicken dish at an Indian restaurant

Riversands Primary School

4 03 2012

So, I have landed safely at home in New Jersey but there are still so many things I haven’t posted about.  For now, I’m going to continue using this blog to catch up on experiences in South Africa before I turn it back into a food blog.  Here’s a post I’ve been trying to work on, but got distracted from by my vacation in Cape Town (more on that later!):

The last Wednesday we were at AISJ, one of the women from the Teaching and Learning Center took us to Riversands Primary School, a government-run school for students living in Diepsloot.  We’ve seen schools in the after care program in Diepsloot and this was a chance to see the school while it was in session.  We met with the principal who told us a little about the class sizes and teaching conditions.

There’s an average of 50 students per class and 100 students per grade.  There are only two classrooms and two teachers per grade, so 40-50 students are literally crammed into small classrooms.  The students wear uniforms every day which for the boys includes pants, dress shoes, and sweaters.  The classrooms are not air conditioned so they are VERY hot. There is barely any room to get from one group of students to the other and they just sit in their desks working in workbooks for most of the day.

Students in a 7th grade class

More 7th grade students


We went to see classrooms in 7th and then 6th grade.  The school goes up to 7th grade and then starting in 8th the students go to a local high school. We got a chance to meet the students and see what they were learning – they have most of their instruction in English, and then also learn in Tswana, the language that most of the schoolchildren speak at home.  The students were SO excited to meet us and show us what they were learning.

Then we went to the elementary part of the school where the students were at recess.  We went to see one of the classrooms when it was empty and then children started pouring in.  These children LOVE having their pictures taken so we heard “shoot me, shoot me!” all around and the children always want to see their picture after it’s taken.  We took a lot of pictures with the kids and then after a few more roadblocks of children, we worked our way back to the main office, holding hands with children on our way up the small hill.

With some elementary students

Elementary school play 'area'

Elementary classroom - this is only half of it.

Walking with students back up to the main office

Then it started raining cats and dogs, and we all ran for thunder.  South African thunderstorms come in so quickly and are some of the strongest rains I’ve ever seen.  We huddled under the overhang next to the main office and had tickle fights with the kids and took a lot more pictures.  They are so adorable and didn’t want us to leave after the rains stopped.  Each kid wanted their own hug and kiss from each one of the five of us, so goodbyes took a long time.  Luckily they were little, otherwise I feel that we might have been overpowered by all the pulling on our arms.

All in all I think going to the school was a great experience. The school, conditions, teachers, and students, are strikingly different than at AISJ.  These are students who live in the shacks that we’ve seen in Diepsloot and walk miles to school in hot uniforms, and sometimes don’t have anything to eat at home and only are able to eat at school.  This school is literally right down the road from AISJ, and it’s so interesting that two different worlds can exist so close to one another.

Until next time!

With students under cover during the rain storm


Leaving on a Jet Plane

23 02 2012

So, I cried in school yesterday [Wednesday]. But all for good reasons.

Today we had an elementary assembly, as we normally have every two weeks. But this time around, I had a little trick up my sleeve that not many people knew about! Little did I know, my students had a little something up their sleeve as well.

I went to the assembly knowing they were going to do something special to send off the student teachers since it was our last assembly before our last day at school on Friday. Terry, our principal, started the assembly off saying how they were going to switch things up a little bit today, since two of the student teachers had to leave for a field trip with their kindergarten classes. We started with kindergarten, and some of Amanda’s students got up and said why they would miss her. Katie’s students did the same. Then five of my students got up and each said one thing about me – that I was kind and a fun teacher, that I taught them hard things but helped them through it, and that they were going to miss me very much. It was the sweetest thing and I was on the verge of tears as they were speaking. Kaitlyn’s fifth graders wrote her a poem and said that.

After all the ‘presentations’ were done, the music teachers came out and the whole school sang “Leaving on a Jet Plane” which is the song that they sing for students that are leaving for the school. Then I started crying. I didn’t feel so alone since the other three elementary student teachers were also crying, but I just couldn’t stop. I have grown to love this school and love these kids so much and just the thought of leaving them is making me sad as I write this post. One of my boy students saw I was crying and I was originally sitting next to a first grade teacher; he asked her if he could switch places with her so he could sit next to me. It was the sweetest thing. After they finished singing, I tried to calm myself down since I had a surprise of my own!

Each assembly there are some performances by students in the school. This time around there was a group performance by another fourth grade class, a piano performance, and two guitar performances. Then Terry explained that the school gets to hear so many talented people, and asked, what would happen if those talented people kept playing for another 15 years? He announced a surprise guest entertainer .. me!

(Back story: last week when we were at happy hour, I was talking with Terry and his wife. I expressed my interest in being a vice principal at a high school in charge of a music and arts program, and they asked if I played instruments. I told them that I did, and then Terry asked if I would perform at the assembly, to which I agreed. I didn’t tell my cooperating teacher or anyone else besides the student teachers, so it was a surprise to the whole school!)

So then I got up and performed “La Valse d’Amelie” by Yann Tiersen, from the movie Amelie. The performance went well and everyone cheered after I was done! It was a great feeling; I’m not a performer, I’m an accompanist, so getting up in front of an audience by myself is actually pretty nerve wracking. My kids were SO surprised and had the biggest smiles on their faces when I got back to where we were sitting.

After my performance, the school said goodbye to four other students. They again sang “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and then I cried all over again. Having students leave the school is so commonplace here and I keep thinking back to my elementary school days when I had two friends move away and I was completely devastated. I can’t imagine how these students with the fleeting nature of the schoool and the students that come and go.

After the assembly we got ready to go back to the classroom, and my students immediately rushed up to me. They all knew that I played piano, but had no idea that I was performing, and they all seemed really impressed. I have one student who always talks about what she’s learning in piano class (she has lessons twice a week!) and she said I played so fast and she would have to practice so much to play like me. It was SO cute how excited they all were and I’m so glad I got to perform for them. Here’s a picture that a colleague snapped of me while performing:

We only have two more days in school before we have to say our goodbyes, and I already know I’m going to be very emotional on Friday in school. I’ve got lots of gifts and surprised planned for my students and my colleagues, and I’m excited to share that with them. But most of all I’ll be extremely sad to leave them; they’ve all truly made an impact on my life and on my teaching career. Until next time!

Volunteering in Diepsloot

20 02 2012

Since we’ve been here we’ve gotten some opportunities to volunteer in Diepsloot, a local township of Johannesburg and one that’s very nearby our school.  Here’s a little bit about both of them.

Afrika Tikkun is an after care program in Diepsloot.  The eighth graders have taken on helping out at this after school program at their service learning activity and I’ve gotten a chance to come with the group twice, and we’ll be visiting again tomorrow. The first week we helped to decorate cookies with the kids, and then last week the 8th graders read Valentine’s stories and we made cards.

The students in this afterschool program range in age and don’t speak a lot of English. I noticed this especially last week when I came to two boys and asked one a question, and the other translated what I said.  Most of the children do not have shoes but do wear school uniforms since a lot of the township schools have the students wear uniforms.  Above all else, the children are super sweet. The first week we went they did some chants and dances altogether which was so great. They have also learned how to say “thank you very much, you are so special” which they say in unison.  There are just a few adults that help run this afterschool program, and their control over the kids is extremely impressive.  The kids are well behaved and happy, and love pictures.  I can’t wait to go back tomorrow for our last time. Here’s some photos:

Week 1 - decorating cookies


One of the 8th grade students with his group and their Valentine's cards


Kids and their Valentine's cards!

Rise and Shine Preschool is a preschool in Diepsloot that is run by a woman who works out with one of the cooperating teachers, Heather.  Heather has been volunteering with the school and asked if we would come along, which of course we said yes to.  This past Saturday we went to Diepsloot and met some of the people who work at the school. Heather outlined people on the outside as well as the name of the preschool and then we painted everyone in. On the inside, we sponge painted little bodies holding hands around the walls and Heather’s daughter did a beautiful butterfly decoration on a wall. We also worked on a rainbow and cloud inside.

The coolest thing about painting the outside was all the people that were walking by.  Obviously we stood out, but no one seemed to mind and everyone wanted to say hi. We had so many people walking by us while we were painting outside and everyone who passed was extremely friendly and told us we were doing a great job.  As Heather kept assuring us, we really got to leave our mark.  I can’t wait to hear how the kids reacted when they saw their preschool revamped.

Here are some before and after pictures!

Front - before


Front - after


Inside wall - before

Inside wall - after


Beautiful butterfly wall!


Inside - with people holding hands and little suns around the white board


Painters in action!

Until next time!


The Elephant Chase

18 02 2012

I can’t believe we are leaving so soon.  I’ll be stepping foot on United States soil (er, floor..) in two weeks time.  It’s crazy!  I’m going to try as much as possible in the next week or so.  We have one week left of teaching – we end next Friday February 24.  Then Friday night we’re off to Cape Town, where we’ll stay in a self-service apartment for 6 nights.  We’ll fly back to Johannesburg Thursday morning (March 1st) and then head out that same night for the United States!  We have a 9 hour layover in Munich so we’ll hopefully get to see some stuff while we’re there.

So as you saw from the title of this post, this is about an elephant chase!  About two weeks ago we went to Pilanesberg, which is a Game Reserve and a National Park.  We left Friday a little early from school and arrived at our campsite – we had 12 people with us, including the five student teachers and other teachers/friends.

Township we passed on our way to Pilanesberg


Our tent!


Once we put up all of our tents, we hung out for the rest of the night.  We had brought coolers of food, with lots of snacks and meat, and had a braii (barbecue). It was a nice relaxing night and great to just hang out with everyone.

Saturday morning we got up at 5am (earlier than I get up when teaching!) and got ready to go on our game drive.  We had 12 people split up into two cars – I rode in our friend Kaitlyn’s car with Kaitlyn (fellow student teacher) and Jeannie (teacher at the school).  The rest of the girls rode in the van and we lost them early on in the ride.

Sunrise over our campsite

Now we continued along on our game drive, seeing a few animals.  Then, we found one elephant eating. We immediately pulled over to the side of the road to watch him eat since he was not too far from the path we were driving on.  After following him walking a little bit, he met up with another elephant and we watched the both of them eating some trees.  The elephants started coming closer to the road, and we realized that they were headed right for our car. The elephant came through the bushes and stared right at us. We started to pull the car forward so the elephant could pass and then he started heading towards us.

Watching the elephants eating

Elephant heading towards us!



He finally passed us and went back to eating, which was a relief.  But then he started coming down the road towards us again, and the second elephant joined him in the road.  We continued to pull forward but tried not to make a lot of noise.  That didn’t go so well .. at one point Kaitlyn (teacher) tried to drive but the parking brake was on so she revved the engine instead .. whoops!  While one elephant went back to the side of the road to eat, the first elephant stopped in the middle of the road, whipped out his extremely large elephant penis and started peeing (apparently this is a sign of aggression).  Then the elephant pooped, and started walking towards us again.

Elephant peeing

Finally, both elephants went onto the side of the road and left us alone, but MAN were we scared.  On top of that we didn’t want to make a lot of noise so we were whispering to each other the whole twenty minutes that the chase was going on.  It was pretty crazy when the elephant was walking right at us, but we were all laughing about it.

That’s all for now! I’ve been uploading photos to my Flickr account so I’ll include a photoset from the rest of our game drives at Pilanesberg in my next post. Until next time!

Photos up!!

17 02 2012

Hello! I’ve been working for the last two weeks on finishing editing and uploading my photos to Flickr and then uploading some of the highlights to Facebook as well.

I have a post coming soon, but can’t link my photos from my Flickr to my blog for some reason .. but I’ll keep trying!

Here’s the link to my Flickr page where you can see photos from everything we’ve been doing so far .. from the campus of my school to the Rhino & Lion Park to our trip to the various townships, everything is there!  I hope you enjoy them, and as we continue to do things this weekend and prepare for our trip to Cape Town, I can’t wait to share more photos with you!

Flickr page!