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Three Black Girlz on Safari in Zimbabwe

Giraffe

My idea of the perfect get-away is a beach, preferably on a tropical island where I eat sumptuously, down drinks with lots of ice, party, and watch the sun rise or set, as the case might be.

I don’t ‘do’ safaris, camps or animals – well, except for the odd household pet. So what was I doing driving around an African bush in a jeep, binoculars at the ready, trying to spot wild animals?

Blame Judith (aka The Cat Lady). Judith, friend and traveling partner, loves cats large and small and when she told Sandra (the real reason we’re on this trip) and me that one of her three must-dos was a safari, I remember thinking black people don’t do safaris. We hardly even do parks. (Isn’t that the reason Oprah Winfrey did an entire show at Yosemite?) It must be something in our makeup, but these back-to-nature adventures just don’t appeal to most of us. No man, safaris are for old, White people. But Sandra and I are mildly adventurous, so we figured if we stayed close to our guide, we wouldn’t end up as dinner and have an interesting, different and definitely fun experience and lots of stories to tell.

Since we were going to Victoria Falls, Ruthie, our travel agent, had recommended Zimbabwe, which she said, has the best game. Sandra or I couldn’t have cared less. Heck, before arriving at Hwange, I had no idea what the Big 5 was. No, it’s not the lottery. The Big 5 refers to the animals most difficult and dangerous to hunt – lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo.

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Maropeng and Sterkfontein Cave – Meeting “Mrs. Ples”

Joburg - Maropeng Mrs Ples

Since we had only 2 days in Joburg, Thope had suggested a visit either to Maropeng or Sun City. Google it, she had said, referring to Maropeng.

I’d never heard about Maropeng but when I discovered its background and that it had been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999, there was no doubt where we’d go.

About an hour’s drive from Johannesburg, Maropeng, the “Cradle of Civilization” is the area where our ancestors lived for more than 3 million years. The earliest human fossils, the most famous of which, “Mrs. Ples,” believed to be a distant relative of humankind, were unearthed in the nearby Sterkfontein Caves.

Mrs. Ples

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Soweto Morning

Mandela House

A jarring sound jolted us awake on our first Saturday in South Africa.  It shouldn’t be time to get up yet, I thought. But it was and as my eyes adjusted to my surroundings, I could tell the sky was already turning a luminous blue.

Roger was up and had corn porridge (miele-meal), a traditional breakfast, ready for us. It was just what we needed to warm our stomachs.

Following breakfast, we began a very abbreviated tour of Soweto. Our first stop was Mandela House, the Mandela Family Museum on Vilakazi Street. This simple building was the home Nelson Mandela shared with his first wife, Evelyn, and where Winnie, his second wife, also lived. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay until it opened as we had a full day ahead. We decided to see it and the Apartheid Museum on our return to Johannesburg.

Mandela Family Museum

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Dinner in Soweto

With Lorraine's mom

The morning of our first full day in Johannesburg broke in a blaze of sun. Sandra fiddled with the dial on her portable radio until she picked up what sounded like a local station that, except for the music and accent of the deejay, could have been mistaken for a station back home. Why is it that no matter where you go, almost all deejays sound the same?

Our room at Shepherds Court was large, and comfortable for the three of us and our suitcases. But it was the bathroom that had us ooohing and aaahing, with its heated tiles, shower, and whirlpool tub that beckoned invitingly each time we entered. Regrettably, we didn’t have time to enjoy it.

We spent most of the morning sorting the school supplies that we planned to donate. It was Sandra’s suggestion and Judith and I signed on without hesitation. Unfortunately, the week we arrived, all the schools were closed because of a strike. We were anxious for it to end as we had no plans to take the supplies back to New York.

Lorraine’s brother, Roger, arrived soon after our late breakfast to take us to Soweto and to meet their mom, Thandie Klaasen.

watch?v=IeKfpGWpq90

Known as one of Nelson Mandela’s favorite jazz singers, Thandie Klaasen has performed with Miriam Makeba, Patti Labelle and Roberta Flack, among others.  This elegant woman, of proud bearing, lives in a suburb of Johannesburg surrounded by the awards and mementos of her 50-plus-year career. Several young musicians seek her out and the night we were there was no different.

Mercy Pakela, a singer who was appearing that evening with Japanese jazz saxophonist, Sadao Watanabe, was there when we arrived. We all crowded together in Mrs. Klaasen’s living room, talking with her about her life, her struggles and her luncheon with Madiba. And as if the evening couldn’t get any better, both she and Mercy sang for us.

From the outset, we knew the trip would be fabulous, we just didn’t know it would be this fabulous!

Dinner in Soweto

Marcia, Thandie Klaasen, Sandra, Judith and Mercy Pakela

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