The commute from Vancouver to Johannesburg is no small task. We spent about 40 hours travelling from A to B. Not to mention we consumed about eight plane meals and watched a collective 40 plus hours of television and movies from the time we left to the time we arrived. While that much travel in two days isn’t the most comfortable experience, every second was worth it from the moment we began our descend into Jo’burg. From the sky, Jo’burg’s iron rich soil (more like clay) creates a desert like landscape; patches of light browns, deep reds and bright oranges span as far as the eye can see.
Once we landed, collected our luggage and brushed our teeth, we headed for the exit to meet our ride to Botshabelo. We were warmly greeted with a personalized sign and the ear-to-ear grins of George and Juwawa. These two characters simply foreshadowed the incredible welcome we were about to experience upon arrival. We drove from the airport to a small town called Magaliesburg (“ma-hal-ies-burg”) where Botshabelo is located.
When we pulled onto the property, we could tell that several of the children knew we’d be arriving. As soon as the Iveco came to a hault, the curious little rascals headed straight for us. Juwawa flung open the side door and there were so many smiling faces that we couldn’t even step out of the van. Like a scene out of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the kids rushed in for hugs, high fives and hand holding. It felt like we were coming home, and we had only just arrived.
The Botshabelo Community Development Trust (BCDT) is nestled in a valley, surrounded by soft rolling hills on either side. While we quickly discovered that the South African winter is dry and dusty, the rich soils and picturesque landscapes make for scene out of National Geographic.
We began the day by getting settled into our cabins. Soon after we headed out for a walk around the community to get acquainted with our new surroundings. We made it as far as the crush, where the babies too young to attend school spend their days playing on the jungle gym, singing songs and having fun. The visit with the “babies” was heartwarming and hilarious. What we pieced together through our collective travels is that kids everywhere are the same. They love to take pictures, look at their pictures and play with the camera. Simply put, it was a blurry photo frenzy.
The most captivating part of this visit with the babies was their eyes. Their eyes certainly had stories to tell. For some of them, it was clear that they were super excited to welcome strangers; they loved having someone new to climb on and play with. Some of them were simply excited that someone noticed them. Other kids wanted show off for us. One little munchkin in particular, Masi, was one of these charmers. His favourite thing to do was sing and dance for us. He only wanted to film videos of him singing and play them back so he could watch himself. We sometimes forget that getting to take pictures or videos of the people you love or the things you love is a luxury in life.
Following this visit with the babies, we were hoping to head back to the cabin for a quick nap, but we ended up sitting in on the Botshabelo family meeting. During these meetings all of the community children sit together and discuss important topics affecting the community as well as the conflicts between the children. This wasn’t like your average dinner time conversation. In a world filled with suffering, loss, anxiety and struggle, Marion has created a safe space for her children to speak openly and honestly about anything they’re experiencing. She also uses this time to address issues like sex, drugs and alcoholism, which are common pain points for the youth in the community. This community tradition was an eye-opening experience for us and a great way to gain a better understanding of some of the everyday issues affecting the community.
Located along the 25th parallel, the sun rises and sets early in Magalies. During the day temperatures were warm enough to enjoy shorts and a t-shirt, but in the early morning and late evening, temperatures fall and you’re running for long pants and sweaters. So as the sun began to set on the horizon, we headed out for an evening walk up the mountain with the kids. Some kids ran, others walked, some sang or listened to music as they strolled along the path. We spent about an hour exploring the property, making new friends and taking endless amounts of pictures. As day transitioned to night, we headed back to the guesthouse for a quick trip to the grocery store and a good night’s sleep.
The first day at Botshabelo launched an epic stay with our new Botshabelo family.