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September 16th 2012
Published: September 16th 2012
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Wow, I can’t believe that 6 days have passed since my last post!! Over those six days, I have worked three and been off three. I was on one more day, off for three, and then I worked 2.

The last time I posted, I was so excited to have held a penguin, and while my affection for them has continued to grow, the “penguin holding” novelty has worn off. I have held them a LOT. In fact, on September 10, the day after my last post, I was literally assigned to be a “holder”. Basically, after a penguin is washed from being oiled, he/she needs a really good rinse. They are slippery and wiggly, as well as looking for opportunities to bite, so they need to be held tightly. There are women who have been doing the washing and rinsing of oilies for years and years. They are pros, and the work is pretty hard, so international volunteers rarely get the chance to help with this. But, they didn’t have quite enough people, so I got to do it. It was totally awesome. Before I left for South Africa, I joked that I was going to abroad to snuggle penguins (knowing, of course, that it would be more cleaning poop and avoiding bites than snuggling). “Holding” was the closest that I am going to get to penguin snuggling. I was totally on a high from the experience, so much so that I didn’t realize how sore I was going to be until I work up the next day with a hand that was puffed and swollen to almost twice it’s normal size. 😊

It was amazing to have a stretch of 3 days off, and I made the most of it! When I woke up on the first day (September 11th), I was tired and sore. But, my friend Zac talked me into getting out of bed and having a full day in Cape Town. We did a ton of touristy stuff. After taking the bus downtown, we started off at the Castle of Good Hope. The walk there was pretty interesting, as we passed through a very interesting cab area. I definitely saw at least 2 people peeing in public, as well as a person selling pot on the sidewalk. But, we kept walking and we arrived at our first of several destinations. The Castle of Good Hope was very interesting. Zac and I tooled around for a while on our own, exploring and monkeying around. Then, we joined the official tour, which was pretty interesting. One of the most interesting elements of the tour was a close up look at some of the prison cells where you could still see the things that were carved on the walls from prisoners.

After the castle, we headed to the District 6 Museum, which is a museum dedicated to one of the communities that was leveled during the Apartheid era. We totally lucked out at that museum, because we got there just as a large tour group arrived. Although we didn’t pay for the tour, we got folded into their group. Their tour guide was a local who was born in District 6 and was forced to move because he wasn’t white. He grounded the history of District 6 within his own personal experiences, and he was really engaging. I’m doing a cultural tour later in my time in South Africa, and I will likely learn more about this part of South African history. I’m looking forward to it.

Next up was the South African Museum, which was huge and interesting. We thought it would be a quick stop, but we ended up staying there for a couple of hours. The South African Museum borders a huge garden called the Company’s Garden. I’m sure that this garden is spectacular in every season, but I appreciated the beauty of a garden on the cusp of spring. Wandering through these gardens was definitely a highlight of the day for me, and we liked it so much that we decided to have lunch at a little outdoor café in the garden. After lunch, we walked to Jewel Africa where they do a brief, but extremely informative, lecture on how diamonds are cut and graded. Our last stop was meant to be the Gold Museum, but we got there too late. They closed at 5pm, and even though we got there at about 4:30, we were told that we would have to try another day. We walked around a little more downtown before taking the bus back to Table View.

On the second of my 3 days off, I went on a wine tour with 2 other girls from the house Jo (from London) and Eri (from Japan). We went to 4 wineries over the course of a day, each in a different part of wine country. We started tasting wine at 9:30, which was an experience! I think that many people who do this tour only really remember the beginning, but we paced ourselves and we were able to enjoy it to the last minute. The weather was amazing, the wine delicious, the scenery breathtaking, the company fun, and the food yummy. It was a fantastic and relaxing day.

As we were finishing our wine tour, the clouds were coming in and by my 3rd day off the weather was gray and rainy. I have felt twinges of homesickness through out my time here, mostly because the time difference and the distance makes it hard to feel connected with friends and family back at home. But, for the most part, I have been so busy that I have had regular distractions from homesickness. On Thursday, though, I indulged in a day off from stimulation and I definitely felt homesick. I spent the day doing quiet activities, including checking out the local library. I am invested in reading Nelson Mandela’s “Long Walk to Freedom” while I am here. I also did some grocery shopping and hung out at the local shopping area. For dinner, I went for pizza during which my mood improved. They had free wifi, and I got to message back and forth with friends.

Then, it was back to penguining. The past two days have been much more intense, because I have started to really work with and handle the penguins. First up was “tubing” – which is where we catch a bird, open their mouths to insert (aka shove) a tube down to their stomach (avoiding their air hole) and then use syringes to pump liquid (water or darrows) into them. As you can imagine, the penguins don’t really like this, and it requires a lot of coordination (not a major strength of mine). Next was feeding, which generally means force-feeding. Normally, it takes weeks to train volunteers to do these things, but we are so busy that weeks of training were packed into about 20 minutes. Between the tubing and feeding, we still have to stay on top of cleaning. It is so much work. I can’t think of an interesting and accurate way to describe how tired and sore I feel right now… I love it, though. I am learning a lot, and I feel like I am making a valuable contribution. There is a lot of comradery among the volunteers and staff, and everyone is working to maximum capacity. It feels like a team effort, with everyone helping everyone, all working together to improve the health of the African penguin.

The only other thing that I will include in this post is a spontaneous confession. Way back on my Cape to Addo tour, on the final day, I left my wallet at the backpackers. I didn’t want to tell the story until I knew the ending. Fortunately, I did a lot of things right… you know, aside from leaving my wallet in a hostel. My passport, cash, and credit cards were all stored in different places. So, the level of damage was contained. But, what I left behind included my credit card and about 100 rand in cash (less than 20 dollars). I realized it a couple of hours after we left, but it was too late to go back and get it. My tour guide called the backpackers and fortunately (!!) they had my wallet. Martin assured me that his company uses that backpackers regularly, and someone would collect it and drop it back at AVIVA the next day (which would have been Sunday, September 2nd). That is what happened, but instead of 1 day, it took 10. But, my wallet was returned to be safely and soundly (thank goodness!!). I monitored my credit card activity closely to make sure that nothing unusual happened, prepared to cancel it if necessary. It wasn’t. Even the cash was still in my wallet when it was returned to me. Whew!!

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