TTS20 on Safari

Saturday, September 29, 2012

On Safari with TTS20 . . .

*Who knew the day would come where you would see 11 teenage girls, eagerly up and ready to go by 5:45 AM?? Perhaps I should add that we were off on our first safari drive, and that news does not come as such a huge surprise! Last week we all had the chance to do both a morning and a night drive at South Luangwa National Park in Zambia. We piled into the open air safari trucks and rolled through the gates, where entire troops of baboons lounged about, lazily greeting the day. Driving over the bridge, we watched as a lone fisherman navigated his way through hippo pods AND around spiny crocodile backs, laying his net. Our guide explained that because fish often feed by hippos, you regularly see crocs and fishermen close by. Making our way into the park, we spotted our first impala herds, interspersed with grunting warthogs and the occasional cape buffalo. As we continued along our truck slowed to a crawl--leopards!! A mother and her cub, barely discernible among the grasses. They were lying in early morning's warm light, eyes half open. About an hour later, our vehicle slowed again, this time for lions!! Three lionesses sprawled on the river bank. We let out silent screams of excitement and gasped at just how large their paws and mouths were--clearly capable of causing serious damage. By now, as this was Zambia, it was tea time, so we set up our thermos and mugs just downstream of the lions and watched giraffes as we sipped our milky morning drinks. We were sure we had seen everything good there was to see, but just as we were preparing to leave, we came across a final sight that almost topped them all--a mother puku who had JUST given birth to a baby. The baby could not yet stand; we watched the mother lick her baby for the first time, drying its fur and nudging it to stand. Our guide said that in his past seven years at the park, he had never seen a newborn.

We returned to our campsite and rested up for our evening drive. Just as the sun grazed the horizon, we again hopped into our safari vehicles. We sped through a blazing sunset background to pull up to a small grass stand, where there lay two more lions! This time we were seeing males, but only their stomachs: they were on their backs, their bellies extended almost to the point of bursting, in a true food coma! Moving forward a few hundred meters, we came upon a felled cape buffalo. The lions had killed it and had their full, and now vultures were out in full flock. We watched them do their funny hip-hop toward the carcass and then peck away. Our guide said we would come back after the sun had set to see if we could find any more happy scavengers. Sure enough, an hour later, under dark's cover, we watched a hyena tentatively scampering about, trying to decide if the lions had really left or not. 


For anyone out there who has not seen a hyena, they are the the most ridiculous hodgepodge of features--short body, long neck, and spotted fur that is scraggly and scruffy in all the wrong places. We waited with bated breath to see whether the hyena would make it out for her meal or not. In the end, she decided the lions were not coming back and went for it. After watching for a bit, we headed out of the park, feeling incredibly fortunate for all we had seen. Later, we found out that the cape buffalo carcass was completely gone by the next evening. Our guide also told us that we were incredibly lucky--often just seeing a lion or a leopard is cause for excitement, let alone seeing multiple of each in one day.

With our Zambian safari drives behind us, we can't wait to see what wildlife lays ahead in Mozambique and South Africa!

*This blog post was written when the group was still in Zambia. It corresponds with the pictures of the group in the open air jeep.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Message from the Girls!

Bowl of Mielie-Meal . . . YUM!
Hello parents! This is Francesca and Kelly writing. We miss you all incredibly much and are excited to share our day with you. Currently we're eating Hawaiian pizza and milkshakes at a cafe by the ocean (no biggie). Today we worked with African Impact building a house and playing with kids at a local orphanage. We dug the foundation of the house with machetes, spades, and our bare hands. We placed the tin roof on the top, toted cinder blocks, and attempted to
mix concrete with sand, which was an enduring ab workout. Though there was a Portuguese language barrier, we had a wonderful time with the children playing games, relaxing, and eating Mielie-Meal. (see link for recipe for Sadza or Mielie-Meal). Two days ago we went hiking in a rain forest, swam in waterfalls, and became friends with a tamed warthog. 
Warthog with Babies                                                Dhow

All in a days work! Last night we reached the Indian Ocean, had math class by the water, and felt the sand in our toes for the first time. We are going to get some classes done in the next few days before we take a dhow out to one of the islands (part of a World Heritage Site) to go snorkeling and have a relaxing day on the beach. After that diving is on the list, we will keep you updated throughout the week and let you know how it goes!

Speaking for all the girls, sending love your way,

Kelly and Chesca :)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

News from Mozambique

BOM DIA – Greetings from Mozambique!  We made it across the border in true traveler fashion- poli – poli – slow slow.  Algebra 2 had time for a class while other girls made themselves comfortable in the corner of the customs office playing banana-grams.  The customs officers were quite amused with our group and offered a behind-the-scenes tour of their new office building.  

In the past couple days we have covered hundreds of kilometers and compared different town scenes of rural Mozambique with rural Zambia.  Thatch and mud huts cluster together along the road, woven reed silos are stilted above the ground, overflowing with corn husks and chickens; pigs and goats amble about..  These scenes are transferable across the border while the rocky outcroppings, rambling mountains and gigantic boulders are unique to Mozambique thus far in our travels.

“I've planted 97 million trees so far and I feel its still not enough,” Muagra casually mentioned during his talk about conservation and reforestation.  TTS 20 sat enthralled as he spoke of various conservation methods and how  instinctual it was for him as a small boy.  Muagra didn't realize his childhood past time would lead him down a lifetime journey of conservation complete with requests by the President to meet him and witness his passion.  This was only one blip into our amazing day at Gorongosa National Park  We spent the day listening to locals and internationals alike speak modestly yet passionately about their work in the area.  One gentleman presented a thorough history of the area from the times when Bantu people migrated down through Africa to the “civil” war and Renamo's influence around to the park today and the current reintroduction projects.  Another gentleman showed his homemade ecology book highlighting the uses of the many plant species such as natural glue.  Rangers set up snares used by poachers to catch animals and told heart-wrenching accounts of poaching in the area.

Tomorrow our group is slated to hike Mt. Gorongosa and travel back through the memories of the mountain which has witnessed horrific pain and destruction in the past 50 years.  Mt Gorongosa is on the edge of the park and was Renamo's base during the 70's.  These rebels poached profusely, fought brutally, and forcibly removed locals from villages scattered around the mountain.  Today the Carr Foundation and Gorongosa National Park are working to stretch the park boundaries to include the entire mountain

The girls are embracing all new activities with energy and enthusiasm.  They are excited to learn by doing.  As one student turned and said to me during lunch today, “I'm not really interested in science back home, but here I am fascinated by it because I can see it in motion.”


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Next Phone Calls: September 19th & 20th


I talked to Aunge today for our regular check-in. The group just finished their first long full day of travel-- FTD in Traveling School lingo. Long travel days can be tiring, but on Big Blue, there's room to stretch out and nap, do homework, or just zone out listening to your own music and staring out the window. It sounds like the academics are ramping up: the girls are in the process of drafting their first writing assignment in Literature and Composition, the Travel Journalism class is working on their first article, and the first oral presentations in History are beginning to be due. The group spent their days in Lusaka learning about one non-profit's attempt to eradicate Malaria and were entertained by Alexandra Fuller's parents and friends at their banana and fish plantation on the banks of the Zambezi River. Your girls are certainly keeping busy!

The group was hoping to connect via Internet yesterday with family and friends, but unfortunately, the connection went down, and instead, the girls treated themselves to some ice cream at the shopping mall! Ah well, hopefully next time. One thing Aunge and I talked about was setting up another time for parents to phone their daughters. It looks like for the remainder of Zambia, this might be the best way for you to access the group. So, we wanted to give you a heads up about the plan . . .

I will soon send out an email regarding the next phone call schedule. But, just fyi, we're planning for September 19th and 20th. In preparation for that, you might want to chat with each other on the blog about how you opted to call the TTS20 cell phone in Zambia. Did you use your cell phones or home phones? Did you try Skype? Did you try an AT&T calling card? It's great to hear and share what worked and what didn't.

Talk to you all soon!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

More Updates from Ariane

We arrived to camp after a long day on dusty roads and were greeted by a welcome sight for our travel-weary eyes: lush green campgrounds directly overlooking the lower Zambezi River. As we set up camp we heard a deep "grunt, grunt, grunt"--hippos were in the water right below us! We were able to make out hippo noses surfacing for quick breaths of air on the river as our evening continued. After dinner, we indulged in some FFF--Forced Family Fun--and were blown away by the girls' impromptu creativity during our silly games.
Elephants on the Lower Zambezi River
The next morning we had the opportunity to cruise up and down the Zambezi as the sun rose. Binoculars out and eyeballs peeled, we floated by hippo pods, spotted slinking crocodiles along the river banks, and came within a few feet of our first elephants! We were able to snap all sorts of photos as the elephants worked their way through an early morning breakfast of grasses and reeds.

That afternoon, Tim Fuller (father of Alexandra Fuller, whose book Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight we are reading in Global Studies) showed us around his farm. We learned all about his banana plantation and tilapia hatcheries while bumping over rutted roads and dodging goats and sheep.

The next day, the girls spent the morning in the nearby village where a group of local boys performed traditional dances for our group, and schoolchildren showed us around the town. After lunch and a final goodbye to our newfound hippo friends, we hit the road again to continue our Zambian adventures!


We began our science classes with a test of our students' observational skills by having a blindfolded group search for a specific mango tree. Since then, students have continued to apply their observational research skills in writing their field journal entries. Last week, Lake Kariba provided a powerful backdrop for learning about the concept of “The Tragedy of the Commons” and its effect on Zambian and Zimbabwean fishermen. We even had the opportunity to 'fish' for Kapenta fish by night, luring them to the surface with our headlamps. We will continue to explore the topics of conservation and sustainability in Zambia’s national park system.

We started our Literature and Composition class by discussing human stories: What power do stories hold? How can stories be dangerous? And how can stories give us a better understanding of our experiences here in South-East Africa? We explored these questions as we read a number of short stories and poems written by local authors, and began our first novel, Zenzele. We are also using creative writing prompts and workshops to play and experiment with our own writing techniques. Finally, the students are well into their first essay, this one written as an epistle , to mirror Zenzele's format, but with the subject of their choice.

Almost a quarter of the way into the TTS20 Semester, the history students have already covered a wide range of pertinent topics. They began by examining different factors and forces that have shaped this region's history, especially focusing on the area's physical geography and European colonization. From there, the students studied historical and political trends in Zambia over the past hundred years to gain a better understanding of the nation's current political state. The class has been able to supplement lessons with conversations with local southern Africans and with a visit to the history museum in Livingstone, where students synthesized what they learned into creating David Livingstone's Facebook page or writing a Recipe for Revolution.

On the Road in Zambia

Big Blue arrived in a whirlwind of excitement and with Ngwenya as the captain our group set off eastward to explore rural Zambia.  Fire charred brush lands interspersed with small villages and bustling towns highlighted the first long truck day.  The group rapidly adjusted to truck life and is mastering crew and tent duties

Ngwenya  and newest son
We spent our first night living off the truck on the banks of Lake Kariba  in a serene campground with zebras grazing lazily nearby.  The following day we hopped aboard a houseboat and chugged through an island channel before settling in for the night in our cozy cabins.  We toured the shores of many islands on a small pontoon boat and ooo-ed and ahhh-ed over kudo, hippos, bushbuck, and impalas before switching to a pristine safari camp along the banks of a deserted island.  The girls dubbed the island camp – swamping – swanky camping, a term that has come to describe other sights along the way.

Impala Pronking

A few quick, on the spot quotes from some gals:
Megan L - “Swamping - It’s like camping but glorious.”

Brooklyn - “I was in awe by the zebras grazing around our lake side yoga studio.”

Jane - “I received two hundred waves from the truck during our first 9 hour ride.  I felt the warmth of this country that I don't always feel in the USA.”

The Math Concepts class started the semester talking about how and why we make certain decisions from different choices.  Each decision is based on various factors based on lifestyle, values, family and friends, and the girls studied why these factors and others affect their decision-making. We then moved our discussion to how people make choices about finances and budgets.  The class focused on budget sheets – how to create a budget and how to deal with unexpected expenses, pay stubs, and keeping a balance sheet for daily transactions.  These topics set the stage for the upcoming Game of Life.

The ladies quickly formed an interactive class environment – sharing ideas and problem-solving tactics amongst one another.  Each student shows extreme capability in her math skills and offers a different perspective to share with the class.  The class just finished the prerequisite chapter and refreshed their Algebra knowledge.  The chapter covered algebraic expressions, real numbers, exponents and scientific notation.  We also covered various rules and problem-solving methods to solve rational, linear and polynomial equations.  Next week the class will begin to study functions and their corresponding graphs.

Throughout the first three weeks of the semester, the students reviewed Algebra 1 skills and are quickly approaching polynomial equations and solving for variables.  The class works well as a team with each one helping another work through word problems using order of operations.  As an additional challenge, the students enjoy choosing unique class settings such as dangling their legs in the pool or finding the best shade for a Crazy Creek circle.

iLife & PE
iLife class helps strengthen our community by addressing many difficult issues faced during a Traveling School semester and beyond.  In the first weeks, we studied self-defense and the power of the word “NO”, organization strategies to master school and group-living stressors, self-awareness in a group setting and time management skills.  The class is also addressing the various stages of group development and the ways to navigate various personalities and expectations.  

Students are enjoying the variety of PE opportunities throughout southern Zambia—from running on a local golf course to practicing yoga alongside zebras to plyometric exercises in whispers in the middle of a sleepy campground.  The students are setting personal athletic goals using the SMART goal format and have challenged one another to try 1% harder each day.

Global Studies class is a forum for thought-provoking discussions about southern African culture, politics and lifestyles.  The class created skits to demonstrate American culture and the idiosyncrasies we don't even notice about our own culture before studying Zambian culture and current events.  During discussions, we also engage in how various sights and events we witness impact our view on tourism and the global community.  Our driver Ngwenya is also teaching the girls aspects of his own Shona culture such as greetings and ways to show respect which are important to our interactions in Zambia, Mozambique and South Africa.  The girls are beginning to greet him each morning with a proper “Mangwanane”.  TTS20 is quickly realizing how fast we experience things along the road and how various points affect them differently.  To help aid in the reflective process, the girls wrote their first weekly R,R,and R essays (Reaction, Reflection, and Response) last week about something that has impacted them individually thus far in the semester.  


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Leaving Livingstone

It sounds like the group has had an amazing stay in Livingstone -- from finishing up with orientation activities such as self-defense classes and sessions on group living to service projects in nearby villages where students farmed, painted blackboards and read with local children. Before leaving their first home in Zambia, the girls enjoyed trying their bartering skills at the market, had an ever-popular pizza dinner out, continued with classes, and finally, Big Blue-- the safari truck arrived (see below for an idea of what this must have looked like). Students were introduced to living on the truck and to its driver, Japhet (Ngwenya) and cook -- two amazing Zimbabwean gentlemen who have worked with TTS over the years. The ladies are most likely learning their Shona greetings and how to interact respectfully with their Zimbabwean elders!

TTS18 with Japhet, Tee & Big Blue

I know parents are looking forward to phone calls this week. Your daughters are excited and perhaps a little anxious to hear from you at home.  They very well may cry when they hear your voices, especially with the first call home, even if they were whispering and giggling during study hall minutes earlier.  They want to hear about what they may have missed since they've been gone, and they sometimes don't even know where to begin when you ask them how they've been or what they've done.

Here are some things you can do to help:
        Reassure your daughters that homesickness is normal and many people experience this when they leave home for a while. Remind her that  homesickness is usually short-lived.
        Listen to your child's challenges and concerns, but don't let the looking back hinder her moving forward. Remind her that she is there to learn, and make new friends and grow.
        Establish a regular contact time but limit the number of acceptable calls. We think calling home too much or too little can be the most difficult for our students. For the first half of the semester, public phone access is not consistent, so we will try to set up phone calls every 10 days to two weeks. Once the girls are in South Africa, there will be more opportunities for them to call you directly. Some parents end up with very expensive phone bills as a result of international calling if they don't keep tabs on this.
        Encourage your daughter to become involved in her new life and her new community. Ask about her classes, activities, and the other students that she's met. Praise her for her efforts to make friends. In particular, ask her about Victoria Falls,  her time at the orphanage and service projects, staying on a houseboat in Lake Kariba, and her favorite classes.  Ask her to describe Japhet to you (the safari truck driver) or to tell you about Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, a book she's reading for Global Studies.
       If homesickness has not improved after several phone calls, encourage her to talk to her mentor. Please follow up with the home office yourself for a progress report.

It's true, that this might not happen with your daughter, but it's nice to think about it before your first phone call.  Feel free to call or email us in the office anytime if you have concerns during the semester.

Until then, I hope you successfully connect with your daughters on Thursday and Friday, but if you don't get through, we'll work it out for you to try again! Know in advance that orchestrating 11 phone calls from all over the US to two cell phones across the ocean in Zambia will come with a few dropped calls and possibly some crackly connections. Know also that we've got our fingers crossed here in the office and are hoping this all goes smoothly!