Posted on 3 Comments

Fighting a Veld Fire (by Kurt Druzgal)

expat life Pretoria South Africa

If you would have asked me 10 years ago where I would be today, the answer definitely would not have been South Africa.  But once again I would like to thank my wonderful wife and BV for expanding my horizons to an amazing experience.

Special thanks to Heather Salgot for many of the incredible veld fire photos in today’s post.

I was excited to make it down to South Africa to reunite with some people that I have worked with in the past and looked forward to meeting new colleagues.  I was also looking for more experience working on such a massive construction site and dealing with emergency situations.  Kusile and the surrounding area have not disappointed in either of these categories.  This plant will be the 4th largest in the world, and you have the opportunity to see any part of construction in progress.  There are excavations, chimney construction, massive cranes, man basket work, radiological testing, etc., etc., and 15,000 people making it all happen.

The emergencies that I have been exposed to on-site have been a couple lost fingers or injuries sustained that resulted in the loss of a finger. While these are by no means minor for the person losing a finger, it is the injuries off-site that have been more than I was expecting.  During my first week, we responded to a 17 car pile-up which had two fatalities and closed a major interstate type road for 4-5 hours in both directions.  It can be overwhelming to think about the situations encountered here, but you focus on what you can do to help and increase your sense of appreciation for things you’ve taken for granted in the states. A recent response really made me really put into perspective where I am and how rewarding of an experience this can be.

The site’s fire department got a call that a nearby farm was in danger from a grass fire.  Granted, these grass fires, known locally as “veld fires”, become almost mundane to see here in South Africa. It’s common in the dry, fire season, to be driving down the road and have flames licking along the field next to you, but they eventually go out on their own.  It is still really something to see at night, and when we first arrived, it was winter and the beginning of fire season. Our adrenaline response took awhile to allow us to view these fires calmly.

Rarely are the fires put out with fire-fighting resources.   The local farmers burn their fields to clear the land even though they are really not supposed to.  The flames don’t really get that high unless they get into some higher bush or trees.  The concern from this fire was the farm, livestock (especially the horses) and its close proximity to our project/site.

Fire Truck and Discussion at Beginning veld fires grass fires South Africa

The call came in around 2:00 on a Friday afternoon.  The safety team and the site fire department responded to the farm.  It wasn’t long before we found the horses and corralled them into a field that was safe from the fire.

expat life Pretoria South Africa

The local farmer then said that we could start putting out the flames with the branches from a nearby tree.

Uh……………  really?

We’re going to put out fire…with fuel?

Well, despite your better judgment, you learn you have to adapt to whatever available tools and methods in your situation, so we all grabbed a branch and started to swat the fire. As you can see, the branches are live, with leaves. Believe it or not, once you got the hang of it, it worked quite nicely.

expat life Pretoria South Africa

Granted you couldn’t use this method to put out a flame a few feet high, but you could easily stop the 1-2 foot high flames that were headed towards the farm.  The farmers themselves actually make their own fire swatters.  It generally something like a few flaps of rubber on the end of an old shovel handle.

expat life Pretoria South Africa
Farmer with homemade fire swatter

Meanwhile, the fire truck finally made its way out to the field on the freshly burned ground and made short work of the rest.

expat life Pretoria South Africa

Excitement and maybe a little pride ran through the team; we had saved the farm and the horses; our job was done.   The other fire was meandering toward a non-threatening area.

expat life Pretoria South Africa

Or so we thought.

A safety team member called on the radio from another nearby farm as she was trying to wrangle in a herd of goats with kids that were in danger.  So off we went with the trucks to save the goats.  When we arrived, the remaining goats were safe and the fire team waited to see what the fire was going to do.  The farmer reported that he was missing 22 kids (baby goats, that is).

expat life Pretoria South Africa

The fire chief wanted to see what was over the hill, so two of my colleagues and I drove around the field and headed along the fence line to see.  The driver was hesitant to drive through one area because one line of the fire was close to coming across the “road”.  We decided to do it anyway.  After running out of road and seeing that there really wasn’t any other fire over the hill we headed back.  And sure enough in the ten minutes we were gone the fire had jumped the dirt road .

expat life Pretoria South Africa

It had crossed and our path still had a couple burning patches and smoldering cow pies.  We braved the crossing successfully and met up with everybody else.  We decided to move to another area and try to douse this leg of the fire.  We all got out while the official fire team finished off this leg.

One of the most interesting things about this spot was the grasshoppers.  The fire had a pattern.  It would smolder and burn low to dry out the next clump, and then suddenly burst into a huge flame, before dying down again to repeat the process.  During this, the wind was really kicking up and when the fire would flare, the air would fill with grasshoppers launching themselves away from the flames, launching straight into me.  Here I was, in the middle of a burning field in South Africa, getting pelted with grasshoppers.  You can’t help but be amazed at some things like that.

expat life Pretoria South Africa

Once that fire was doused we moved on to a section that we would be at for the rest of the night.  The fire had gained some momentum and was also getting into some bushy and tree covered area.

expat life Pretoria South Africa

expat life Pretoria South Africa

This was a long front of fire and we had to make sure that it did not get behind us again and trap us.  What was amazing to me was that once the fire had passed though you could drive on the freshly burned ground only after 15 minutes or so.   We now had reinforcements, as firefighters from another nearby plant had come to join the effort.

expat life Pretoria South Africa

expat life Pretoria South Africa

The flames were much higher and burned more consistently.  Even though the fire was put out by the water, sometimes it would smolder and ignite again, so you had to stomp out some patches by foot.  The fire truck could not make it to all the areas, so the smaller “skips” (4×4 trucks outfitted with a water tank and pumps attached to pressure washer type nozzles) worked much better.

expat life Pretoria South Africa

expat life Pretoria South Africa

expat life Pretoria South Africa

expat life Pretoria South Africa

We battled for a long time on that line and eventually set a fire break of our own ahead of the oncoming flames.  It worked well and smothered a small portion.  It was going into night and the fire just kept going, but we eventually saw that it would end at a nearby corn field with no further danger to farm, livestock or site, and called it a day.

It was dark and we all stuck around for a short time to talk about the day’s events.  It was unforgettable, and yet somehow I know it is just one more drop in the bucket of experience collected here in South Africa.

About Kurt Druzgal

expat life Pretoria South Africa
Kurt Druzgal
Kurt's weakness at work is his love for construction machinery, like this 1200 ton crane.
Kurt’s weakness at work is his love for construction machinery, like this 1200 ton crane. Kurt is 5’11, so you can see the height of that tread he’s standing next to.

Kurt Druzgal is Traveling Marla’s much better half. His career as a safety manager for an international engineering, consulting and construction company takes them to various parts of the United States and abroad. He is currently working in South Africa for a few years. His business card has a lot of fancy initials, like CSP, MS, CHST, etc., and although some of his certifications are very difficult to achieve, he’s actually a very modest, hard-working guy from western Pennsylvania who quotes Waterboy (a little too excessively) and loves his mama (oh, wait, that’s another darn Waterboy quote, but also true). Kurt goes along with many of Marla’s adventures under protest but claims he’s happy to have done them afterward. She thinks this is mostly true. Kurt likes potatoes. Marla thinks he likes them too much. Maybe this is simply because Marla hates potatoes. She cooks them anyway, despite also hating to cook. Before any new adventure, much potato bribery occurs.

Posted on 1 Comment

The Quiver trees of Keetmanshoop (by Kyle de Nobrega)

I found today’s guest blogger through a very cool website called Ranger Diaries. I read a couple of his posts there, then followed the links back to his own website, and saw his photos of these amazing trees. I knew you would enjoy them, as well.

Take a moment to check out Kyle’s amazing work on his website, INTHESTIXX and on his Facebook page. He also blogs at Africa Geographic.

Love, Marla

The Quiver Trees of Keetmanshoop

-by Kyle de Nobrega, of Inthestixx

Namibia is well known for it’s endless beauty, to thank for that is one of it’s attractions most beautiful contributors, the Quiver Tree. For a lengthily stay in Namibia the easily accessible Quiver Tree forest near Keetmanshoop is a must do for all nature lovers and photographers. What the accommodation facilities may lack in luxury for some, it truly does make up for in photographic opportunities. With over 250 specimens of the Aloe Dichotoma alone, there is no shortage of available tree’s to shoot. At first you feel sort of lost and confused as the excitement and awe loses you among the tree’s. A one night stop over gives you ample time to get to know the trees well and put your creativity to the test, by playing with different angles, light and compositions.

I have chosen 10 of my personal favorites from our one night, Quiver tree overload, stop from our recent Namibian trip.

quiver pillar

purple quiver skies

quiver landscape 2

quiver moon

Quiver tree stars

Quiver tree stars 2

silver quiver colour

dead quiver

silver quiver

quiver low angle


Keetmanshoop is an easy stop over for any trip into Namibia from the  South African side.

About Kyle de Nobrega

Author and Photographer Kyle de Nobrega. (c) Africa Geographic or Kyle de Nobrega.

Incredibly passionate and driven, Kyle de Nobrega is a field guide, naturalist and adventurer. This Capetonian is constantly on a mission to find, experience and share the jewels that nature throws his way. From taking photos of the spoor left behind of a beetle grub, to painstakingly lying on a rock waiting for a Green-headed oriole to fly by, he thrives on nature and what it has to offer. Trained and employed in the Waterberg , Sabi Sands and currently at Tswalu in the Kalahari, the knowledge he seeks in new areas is a top priority. His time away from work is entirely focused on travelling and exploring new game reserves or any great wilderness areas in Africa, seeking the enjoyment of life. You can follow his Facebook page: Inthestixx, for more memories and encounters from out there in and among the things that make him smile.

Posted on 2 Comments

The Big Five in Black and White

I haven’t met the family who created today’s guest post, but I follow their blog and enjoy their many engaging photos on their website, de Wets Wild. I wanted to share this striking post from their wildlife photography, and I hope you’ll take a moment to enjoy it and then check out their website for more amazing photos.

The Big-5 in Black-and-White


The “Big Five” is probably Africa’s most sought-after animals – the term was coined by colonial-era trophy hunters to describe the group of animals considered the most dangerous to hunt: Black Rhino, Buffalo, Elephant, Leopard and Lion. Today, these animals are a major reason for the popularity of South Africa’s wildlife reserves among locals and tourists from all over the world.






About de Wets Wild

We, Dries, Marilize and our son Joubert de Wet, have always had a great affinity for the wild outdoors and we’ve built our careers and family life around protecting, enjoying and showcasing the diverse natural heritage of the beautiful country we were blessed to be born in.

The de Wet family.
The de Wet family.

We’re pleased to meet you and hope we’ll see you around here often, to share our love for, and experiences in, South Africa’s spectacular wild places, from the smallest nature reserves to the biggest national parks, with us.

You can follow us via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter or your WordPress account and please, feel free to join in and share your thoughts with us!

Posted on 3 Comments

Conquering Africa: the ’59 way (by Wernher Hartzenberg)

Please enjoy this week’s variety of guest posts I’ve arranged for you while Kurt and I take our first trip to Cape Town.

I’m really excited for today’s post. I’ve been planning to post this ever since I met a remarkable man at the gym, Wernher Hartzenberg. I didn’t know his name yet. I only knew him as the first guy to be cool to me during my workout time in the testosterone-loaded free weights area. He will even take turns on bench and spot me if we’re working on upper body days at the same time. He was the one I mentioned (not by name) in a previous post, I Can Bench Press Your Mama.

When I finally had a chance to exchange more than hello, he had an astonishing story to tell about driving an old VW van from South Africa…to NORWAY! I’m sure you’ll find it as interesting as I do.

Be sure to check out his website, Aircooled Wonders, and read more adventures, check out their restorations or maybe just go rent one of their cool classic cars.

Conquering Africa: the ’59 way

-by Wernher Hartzenberg, of Aircooled Wonders

To tell the story of an extraordinary 1959 Volkswagen Kombi named Mabel, I’ll need to jump 40 years forward and start the telling with a newborn friendship between two young men, Wernher Hartzenberg and Espen Svensen. Both of us had one thing in common: the desire for adventure. We did not know at the time what impact this meeting would have on the rest of our lives and how we would both find respect for a vehicle that was once upon a time advertised as the people’s car.

It was 1999 and the first ever African Beetle Marathon was just the event to dip our toes into the river of adventure. Boy, would this little stream soon flow like a fearsome river through our veins.

Espen was born in Oslo, Norway. With his forefather’s Viking blood running strong, he decided it was time to see the world. He was so sure about his fate that he purchased a round trip ticket that would take him pretty much, well, around the world. Being an adventurer there would be no better place to kick it all off than in South Africa.

On the other side of the world, a young student, Wernher, was just getting ready to start his adult life. I was like most other South Africans, brought up with the mindset that once you finish your studies, it is time to face the real world, and that meant getting a 9-to-5 job. Luckily, I was young and also knew how to use my free time. That year’s summer break was going to be different; I was going to go BIG one last time.

On Sunday January 10th 1999, six teams set off on a journey that would take them through 5 counties and more than 7500km. Some of the teams showed up to race, but to my mind there was no point in rushing it. The first reason was that if I race through it all that would mean an early arrival, which in turn would mean that I would have to face the real world sooner. What 23 year old in his right mind would do such a silly thing? The second and main reason was that a lot of precious experiences would be lost. So 20 days it was going to be, which happened to be the cut off time and let’s face it, how fast could I really go in my grandfather’s 1959 beetle. Soon the racers were separated from the pacers and friendships started forming among the tail runners. This is how I met Espen and this is how a lifelong friendship started. Our two teams stuck together, especially on the second leg of this journey. We had started together, travelled together and finally finished together.

Espen enjoyed Africa so much that he substituted his ticket to see the world for a 1959 VW Kombi named Mabel. After soaking up the Southern African sun for 18 months, Espen decided it was time to visit home again. What better way to get to Norway than by taking an epic journey up the East Coast of Africa, then cross over to Europe and finally knock on Mom’s door in Scandinavia for a cup of hot chocolate? After a bit of preparation and a lot of butterflies, we left the southernmost point in Africa in May 2000.

We all know that life is what you make of it and this trip was no different. The first thing we realized was that “Africa Time” does exist.  The only way to make this clock tick is by doing what you can, where you are, with what you have.  So with that in mind we soon learnt how to obtain the optimal results out of people, nature, and Mabel of course.

An example of how this worked in our favour was when Mabel started coughing and crawling near the Ethiopian border. We had started that day by creating a path through a washed out section of road between Marsabit and Moyale (Northern Kenya). No one had passed through this section in 2 weeks. It took us 2 hours and a considerable amount of physical labour to clear a 50 meter stretch of road. It wasn’t only physical stress on our bodies that day, but a little emotional stress as well. While digging, moving rocks and pushing Mabel through the muddy water, we noticed a hand full of bandits, armed with AK 47’s, approaching in the distance. Naturally our work pace picked up and by the time they could even think of reaching us, we were gone. This, however, did not do Mabel any favours. Soon she started letting us know that something was wrong with her. We spent that night on the Moyale border. Early the next morning, we made an attempt to push on, trying to eventually reach Addis Ababa, 900 km away. This did not happen as planned and soon we found ourselves being towed by a Minister of Transport and his tractor-trailer and passengers. The first town after the border was Mega, which became our new home and workshop for the next few days. After taking the engine out and fixing what looked like valves that were starting to burn, we were on the road again, but without the result that we were hoping for. It turned out that, with our limited knowledge on these iconic cars, we had forgotten to check the petrol filter, which obviously got blocked while driving through the dust and mud.

We could only laugh at ourselves and, after some high fives, we were on the road again, a lesson well learnt.

Mabel did a superb job, taking us through 17 countries in just under 4 months. Sure, we got stuck in the soft Nubian Desert sand and also blew 3 tyres, while trying to keep up with the convoy on the rocky Kenyan roads. But that is why we did it, for the indescribable experiences. It was in this very same Nubian Desert that we saw the most beautiful sunsets, followed by nights under the pristine starry skies….. living the dream.

Mabel currently resides on a farm deep in the mountains of Norway. Espen is now happily married in Chile. As for me: South Africa is once again my home after 10 years of travel, where I still dream of one day seeing Mabel back in her rightful birthplace.

Managing our way through a washed out road.

Roadside assistance from the local ministry of transport in Southern Ethiopia.

Spending nights under pristine starry skies.

Crossing one of the few operational bridges in rural Ethiopia.


Two of my other favorite pieces by Wernher are his Kombi story and Beetle story:


About Wernher Hartzenberg

Writer and air-cooled car buff Wernher Harztenberg
Writer and air cooled car buff Wernher Harztenberg

I was pretty much born with cars in my blood. My grandfather bought his first new car ( Beetle) in 1959. It was passed onto my dad as his first car and then became my first car when I turned 18. My dad has also owned Porsche’s all his life and he is a huge influence on my passion for cars. I love to travel and in 1999 I did the first ever African Beetle Marathon in my 1959 Beetle. The marathon took us 7500 km around Southern Africa and through 5 Countries. Here I met my Norwegian friend Espen Svensen and in 2000 we traveled from South Africa to Norway in  a 1959 Kombi named Mabel. After Norway I ended up in Atlanta, GA and soon after Spartanburg, SC where I coached tennis for 9 years. In 2009 I moved back to South Africa and started collecting cars with my dad. I opened a workshop in 2010 where I restore classic Beetles and Porsche’s. I also started a website called Aircooledwonders where I try and capture the amazing history behind South Africa’s air cooled cars. I am also involved in a event called Kalahari Desert Speedweek, held at Hakskeenpan. It is the South African ” Bonneville”. I race a 356 Porsche.

Posted on 3 Comments

Chocolate Dipped Death (by Sarah Bell)

guest blogging

guest bloggingThis last guest post during my vacation week is from a young woman who runs a website titled Endangered Living. I recently came across this while reading various Africa posts while procrastinating packing for our trip.

I was shocked and upset when I read her post, and I think you should read it to.

The lengths that smugglers or poachers will go to reach their goals includes so much human ingenuity in something so horrific, and it really made me consider that in comparison, I do so little in my efforts to counteract through awareness and donation.

Mine is not an activist or conservation blog, but with travel writing comes the responsibility of an awareness of both the beauty and brutality around me.

I will make sure that my own voice and pocket is stretched a little more, and intersperse my anecdotes and photographs with conservation efforts.

Thank you, Sarah Bell, for being such a strong-minded young woman with a loud, clear voice. I’m listening, and I hope each of you follows this link to Endangered Living to read her post, “Chocolate Dipped Death.”

Love, Marla

Posted on 3 Comments

Survival is Relative (by Amanda and Leslie)

guest blogging

Marla’s note: These two crazy friends of mine have an awesome blog titled Survival is Relative. Since they didn’t put a title with this post they submitted to help out while I’m away, I gave it the same title as their blog, since that’s such an awesome title anyway. (Did I mention that it’s awesome?) Check them out at their blog, Survival is Relative, and on Twitter.


Marla asked us to fill in for one of her posts this week, and we  got to thinking about how much we miss having her around. Then we got to thinking about all our friends, spread out all over the place, we love and miss, and how sometimes we maybe aren’t the best at keeping in touch. In fact, we were just crying about it to the only friends we’ve made here the other day. We’re sure they really appreciated it.

  1. It’s too hard so just don’t do it.
  2. Expect your friends to keep in touch with you. Get mad when they don’t, and stop talking to them in outrage. Then cry about how your friends don’t care about to the only two friends you’ve actually made in the new city. Handwrite an emotional letter to your long-distance friends so they feel bad. Can’t say you never kept in touch!
  3. Read their Facebook status and comment on their wall at least once/week. Liking a photo or comment counts. Get upset when they haven’t stopped living their life when you moved. Put up old pictures of you with them hoping to make them feel nostalgic and miss you more.  Unsubscribe from their updates when they don’t like the pictures.
  4. Make plans in your head to write letters, because you’ve always wanted a pen pal. Write letters in your head that are so long you forget to actually write them.
  5. Make plans to go see your friends. When you go to buy your plane tickets realize your favorite band is coming to concert and buy tickets to the concert instead. Life is hard when you’re forced to choose between friends.amandalesliemadonna
  6. Mass texts, mass emails, mass Facebook posts. Mass people, mass love. Besides, your friends love getting mysterious replies from phone numbers they don’t know.
  7. Become friends, if you aren’t already, with your friend’s parents on Facebook. This way, you can have public conversations about your friend with their parents. Public shame and parental guilt are a magical combination.
  8. Play phone tag. Call when you know they won’t be able to answer the phone and then leave a desperate message about how much you miss them and wish they would stop screening their calls. When they immediately call you back, don’t answer. You don’t have time to talk now. That’s why you left a message. Jeez, some people can be so selfish.
  9. Get your friend drunk at Christmas vacation and have sex with them. When you’re having their baby nine months later, you can bet your ass they’ll stay in touch then.
  10. Read your friend’s blog. They’re a great writer, and no matter how bad at staying in touch you are, you love them, and would be happy to guest blog for them any time.

So the next time you think to yourself, “I haven’t seen Bob in a while. I wonder how he’s doing.”  Don’t go to their Facebook page. Pick up your phone and give them a call. You can always leave a message.

Posted on 6 Comments

Ubuntu Bikes (by Lolla Wallace)

Ubuntu Bikes guest blog

I was trolling Africa blogs recently, and was struck by this stunning photo of a woman on a bike:

ubuntu bikes

I had to go read more.

Ubuntu Bikes guest blogI was smitten with the photos and story behind Ubuntu Bikes, as well as my new blogging friend, Lolla Wallace of Cape Town, South Africa.

Please follow the link to go read her blog, The Cat is Ginger. You will find this very cool Ubuntu Bikes blog, as well as a variety of Fashion, Food, Places, Photography, Film, Music, Space. Space? Guess you’ll just have to go see what that’s about as well!

Love, Marla

Posted on

Laurie Marker’s Cheetah Conservation Fund (by Lori Robinson)

Laurie Marker Cheetah Conseration guest blogging Africa travel

Laurie Marker Cheetah Conseration guest blogging Africa travelIn a previous blog, I told you about Lori Robinson before, of Africa Inside, she has been a great commenter on this blog, always making me think a little differently about myself and the way I interact with wildlife.

One of my favorite projects Lori promotes is Cheetah Conservation. Her interview with Laurie Marker is must-know information for anyone who cares about these animals. They are THE most endangered big cat in Africa.

Her post explains why, and what we can all do to change the fate of these incredible cats.

Please go read her post, follow Africa Inside there and on Twitter.

Love, Marla


Posted on

My Trip to Zambia (by Janice Anderson)

surgicorps volunteer Zambia

surgicorps volunteer ZambiaI cannot tell you enough how amazing this guest blogger is.

My friend, Janice Anderson, is a doctor who recently volunteered in Zambia, and what she wrote will move you, I promise. It’s beautiful and these beautiful people she helped have a life that most of us can’t imagine.

Please follow this link to read “My Trip to Zambia” on Janice’s incredible blog.

Be sure to follow Janice on her blog, and on her Twitter Account

Love, Marla

Posted on 7 Comments

Meeting Jane Goodall: A Guest Post

expat life Pretoria

by Mary Vanhooser

Hello Traveling Marla readers! Marla went out on a limb this week and let me write a guest blog for you guys. I’m Mary, an American expat who has been living in South Africa for about 18 months. I moved here with my husband (Aaron) and 3 children (Parker, 8; Nathaniel, 6 and Taylor, 4) and began the greatest adventure our family has ever undertaken. We were able to experience some amazing outings recently and Marla asked if I would share them with you.

expat life Pretoria South Africa
My family. (c) 2013 Mary Vanhooser
We live in Pretoria, South Africa, one of the main cities in the most populous provinces here. So, there are lots of things to do if you know where to find them. Google and South African travel magazines have become my go-to when I have some free time. Through one of my searches, I found out about The Jane Goodall Institute and her South African Chimpanzee Sanctuary: This was also featured on Animal Planet as a reality series called Chimp Eden. It is about a 4-hour drive from our home and we haven’t made time to visit yet, but I became a fan on Facebook so I could cyber-stalk them until we could come out.
Last week, the sanctuary announced on Facebook that they still had tickets available to see the movie Chimpanzee at a casino only an hour from our house and that after the movie Jane Goodall herself would be doing a talk about chimpanzee conservation. I couldn’t let the opportunity pass! I quickly e-mailed that I would like 5 tickets.
meeting Dr Jane Goodall Pretoria, South Africa
Now, getting tickets to things here in Africa can be an adventure in and of itself. Often times, they don’t accept payment on-line or even via credit card and bringing cash to an event to pay is a no-no. So, you have to get creative. The Goodall Institute responded back the next day that 5 tickets were available but that I would need to pay via EFT, electronic funds transfer. Well, my US bank account doesn’t play nice with African banks 99% of the time, so I have to shlep down to the actual bank, get South Africa Rand from an ATM and then make a direct deposit of said cash into their account. Then you take a picture of the deposit slip and e-mail proof of payment. And of course save the slip to turn in once you arrive. A pain regardless, more of a pain when I have to drag 3 kids along for the exciting banking field trip, but for about $70 (all of which went directly to the sanctuary) we secured our spots.
expat life Pretoria
A typical transaction in the life of an expat: depositing South African Rand into a bank for a wire transfer to pay for events. (c) 2013 Mary Vanhooser
I felt the need to prep my kids about who Jane Goodall was. They were very excited to see Chimpanzee because that meant popcorn and soda, but they were not so sure about the talk. Luckily, we happened to have some great Zoobooks here that discussed Dr. Goodall and all the research she had done with the chimpanzees. I explained that she was a grandma now, not the young lady featured in the book, but that she still loved chimpanzees and wanted to help them. My 8-year-old daughter Parker was enamored with the idea of living in the rain forest! And all the kids seemed much more eager to learn from Dr. Goodall, plus one for having the right books on hand!
expat life Pretoria South Africa
The Zoobook.
I swear I have not been more excited for an African outing since we moved here. I remember reading about Dr. Goodall’s adventures in Tanzania when I was my daughter’s age. My mom got National Geographic and I remember reading all the articles about this crazy woman living with the chimps. I remember loving the idea of living in the rain forest and the solitude and quiet. I am an only child and the thought of living alone with the animals sounded like paradise.
I woke up early Saturday morning ready to go. The movie started at 2 p.m. and I had the whole family in the car at 12:45 for a 45 minute drive there. But, this is Africa, so of course we hit unbelievable traffic on the exit ramp, 1/2 mile from our destination. We hit traffic at 1:15. It was a fender bender on the bridge over the highway. There were cops there, but in Africa that just means cops were sitting in and on their police cars watching as traffic snarled around them. Not one of them took the initiative to direct traffic to help with the congestion. By the time we parked and were running inside, it was 2:15.
We had brought the Zoobook that discussed all the work Jane Goodall had done with us and I had planned to have her sign it. But, in all the craziness with traffic and being late, we left it in the car. I think I will always regret that. But, there was good luck too, the traffic had affected everyone and they had delayed the start of the movie so we didn’t miss anything!
expat life Pretoria
After the movie they led us into the outdoor amphitheater in the casino’s bird gardens. It is winter in South Africa and by the time we were seated it was after 4 p.m. and the sun was already setting. The temperatures were dropping and I began to worry about Dr. Goodall. She is now 79 years old and I was picturing this frail grandmother talking in the cold. I shouldn’t have had any concerns.
Once she took the microphone it was clear that even at 79, Jane Goodall is a woman to be reckoned with.
expat life meeting Jane Goodall Johannesberg South Africa
Dr. Jane Goodall speaking at Montecasino Bird Gardens. (c) 2013 Mary Vanhooser
Dr. Goodall gave an amazing speech. She began with her childhood and said that her mother truly created the scientist she became because her mother always encouraged her curiosity. She said at the age of 18 months she went to bed with a handful of earthworms from their garden. Instead of being repulsed, Jane’s mother quietly explained that the worms would die if they weren’t returned to the soil and took Jane outside so the worms would be safe. Jane said her first and clearest memory was of being a girl of 4 1/2 and visiting friends on a farm. The friends had a chicken coup and sent Jane to collect the eggs. Jane, a city girl from London, was fascinated, and asked where the eggs came from. No adults would tell her, so she took it upon herself to climb into the chicken coup and sit and sit and sit, waiting quietly without moving for more than 4 hours until finally she saw a hen actually lay an egg. She then went running to her now very worried mother and instead of being scolded for disappearing for 4 hours, was encouraged to tell the story of what she had discovered.
“Isn’t that just what a scientist would do?,” Dr. Goodall said. “Ask a question, not get the answers they want, go out to collect data through observation themselves and make their own conclusions.”
I will be striving to add the lessons from Dr. Goodall’s mother to my own parenting. I try my best to be patient and encourage my children’s curiosity but I lose it sometimes.
Dr. Jane Goodall speaking at Montecasino Bird Gardens near Johannesberg. (c) 2013 Mary Vanhooser
Dr. Jane Goodall speaking at Montecasino Bird Gardens near Johannesberg. (c) 2013 Mary Vanhooser
I must say that Dr. Goodall embodied everything you want from an environmentalist today. She is not a crazy person, hell bent on forcing her view on others. Instead she is very measured, very articulate and, despite decades of watching rain forest destruction and chimpanzee poaching, very hopeful. She said she must have hope because otherwise what point is there? Her speech was incredibly moving. She discussed how her team in Tanzania has engaged the local people to help with chimpanzee habitat protection and it has worked. 50 years ago they tried to do it without the local people and the people fought conservation, once they educated the people and asked for their help, the habitat loss reversed and it is now growing.
She spoke an hour in the cool evening standing the entire time and then stood longer to answer all the questions from her audience. Both of my daughters asked questions. My 4-year-old asked how old Dr. Goodall was when she moved to the rain forest and learned that Jane was 23 years old. My 8-year-old asked what it was like living in the rain forest and Jane said it was wonderful. So quiet except the sounds of birds and insects. Very green. Soft. I loved her description.
Dr. Goodall said the best way for anyone to help our world is to not focus on the big, but instead look at the small things we can do in our own families, neighborhoods, schools and towns. Small changes work and can scale up, but trying to change the whole world will just overwhelm us.
At the end of her speech she finally found a place to sit down, but stayed to personally greet anyone who wanted to talk with her. So, my whole family got to go down and shake her hand and thank her for her amazing service.
Meeting Dr. Jane Goodall. (c) 2013 Mary Vanhooser
Meeting Dr. Jane Goodall. (c) 2013 Mary Vanhooser
She told the kids about her program called Roots and Shoots ( I am going to contact the South African chapter and try to get something started at their school here.


expat life Pretoria
Vanhooser children and Dr. Jane Goodall at Montecasino Bird Gardens. (c) 2013 Mary Vanhooser
Even at nearly 80, Dr. Goodall said she still travels about 300 days out of the year. If she ever happens to do an event in your neighborhood, jump at the chance to attend. I will remember meeting her the rest of my life and I hope the meeting had some impact on my children.