Category Archives: Africa

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Ghana, I’m Yours (Part Two)

In the spring of 2013 I attended a meeting for my mom’s knitting and crocheting club, the “Knit Wits”. They had taught me to knit and crochet many years before and some of them I’d known for my entire remembered life.

The group of about ten women meet on Fridays and are often working on various service projects; their most recent project had been making hats and scarves for the homeless.

The Idea

As a Semester at Sea alumna I frequently spend my free time recruiting students for the without-a-doubt-best-study-abroad-program-in-the-world. When I learned that my friend Christina would officially be taking part in the Spring 2014 Semester at Sea voyage I began considering what I could send with her to take to the orphanage I support in Ghana.

It would be a win-win for all involved if we could work something out. Christina would experience a well-run orphanage environment while in Ghana, the children would get visitors (something they thoroughly enjoy), and I would get to give something back to the children that taught me what joy really is.

The Proposal

Well, in short, I came to the Knit Wits meeting and kind of just threw the idea out there. Not really expecting them to agree to crochet 50-something blankets in less than a year, it was pure awesome when they announced they would do it!

The Project

Blanket crocheted for the Egyam orphanage in Ghana, West Africa by the American Knit Wits Group via ZaagiTravel.comAnd so it began. We all crocheted our hearts out.

Blanket crocheted for the Egyam orphanage in Ghana, West Africa by the American Knit Wits Group via ZaagiTravel.comMonths and months of work went by. I emailed back and forth with Daniel, manager of the Egyam orphanage, and he sent me the boy/girl ratio. We ended up making a few extras which can be used for incoming children whenever they arrive.

By late December the blankets were finished.

Blankets for the Egyam Orphanage in Ghana, West Africa being delivered by Spring 2014 Semester at Sea Voyage via ZaagiTravel.com

The Ship

Getting the blankets physically onto the ship was it’s own adventure.

During the weeks leading up to when the MV Explorer would be in the San Diego harbor I spoke with numerous Semester at Sea employees about the best way to get the blankets on board. All told me that it would be best if the two students (at this point I had now adopted another friend, Taylor, into my orphanage-visit team) could transport the boxes with them the day they boarded the floating university, officially and affectionately referred to as the MV Explorer.

I knew that Taylor and Christina would have their hands full with their own luggage and be busy trying to navigate the hectic and intensive first day — including crossing the Mexican border by shuttle and going through security in Ensenada. It didn’t seem like the best way to me.

January 9, 2014

The day before embarkation came and my plans were still not anywhere near final or concrete. Weeks previously I had bought a ticket to the TEDx talk that Semester at Sea was hosting on board the ship. After loading up my car with the two boxes and a dolly, I decided I would just drive up to the port and hope for the best.

As I began the two-hour drive from my hometown down to San Diego I prayed and prayed that things would go smoothly.

The MV Explorer before the Spring 2014 Semester at Sea Voyage via ZaagiTravel.com

In short, this is how things played out:

I parked.

Two nearby construction workers helped me get the boxes from my car onto the dolly.

I walked the 50 or so feet from my car to the TEDx check-in table.

Without even saying anything, the Semester at Sea employees I had previously spoken with told me to wait a moment while they checked if I could get approval to load the boxes aboard the ship.

A few minutes later they returned to give me approval. WHAT?! YES!

I got my badge and started the trek from the port entrance to security, where Port of San Diego workers cut open the well-taped boxes, unloaded the vacuum-sealed bags and put each bag through the metal detector.

Boxes of blankets for the Egyam orphanage in Ghana, West Africa being delivered by the Spring 2014 Semester at Sea Voyage via ZaagiTravel.com

While going through security I met a couple attending the TEDx talk. They were each alumni of the program, although from different semesters, and had met at a reunion event. Decades later and they were excited to see the newest SAS ship. As we began talking the husband of the duo offered to pull the dolly through the ship and into the storage room. I thanked him and offered to give them a tour of the MV Explorer in return — something I do annually for the Open Ship events, including one I had volunteered for during the week prior.

We easily put the boxes into place and off we went exploring the ship.

Then, during a break in the TEDx talks I went into Tymitz Square (a central location/entryway) where different companies and sponsors were tabling. I spoke with the founders of Global Grins who, without a second of hesitation, passed me four or five handfuls of toothbrushes to stuff into the boxes that would be given to the children at Egyam! Seriously?! Is this real life?!

I then spoke with a representative from TOMS shoes, a well-known retail company whose business concept is to donate shoes for those in need, equal to however many shoes they sell. We discussed the possibility of donating shoes to Egyam (shoes are actually what the orphanage needs the very most) during the Fall 2014 semester. This potential offer is something I’m now currently in the process of securing.

I couldn’t believe the way this entire day played out. But it kept on getting better and better.

Once back in the storage room I started counting the toothbrushes to see how many there would be. Even if there weren’t enough for every child some would be better than none.

Toothbrushes from Global Grins for the Egyam Orphanage in Ghana, West Africa being delivered by Spring 2014 Semester at Sea Voyage via ZaagiTravel.com

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15…

16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30…

31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45…

“Uh oh. Looks like it’s just a few short. Darn”, I said out loud to myself.

46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51……….

The exact amount of children at the Egyam orphanage.

In that moment I felt like I had been personally hugged by God, met fate or destiny, all the stars aligned and apparently, the universe was feeling particularly generous. I’m not too sure how I came to be so blessed. All I know is that this project is nearing full completion and I am so unbelievably grateful for every person that helped make this idea a reality. Beginning with yarn and ending with a box of blankets traveling across the world to 51 beautiful souls.

A years worth of a labor of love. Securely in place. On it’s way to Ghana as we speak. Today, February 9, 2014, the ship is arriving in Hong Kong and soon heading toward Vietnam.

The blankets will be hand-delivered by students of the Spring 2014 Semester at Sea voyage in April. Pictures, videos, and statements from the students and Egyam children will make up Part Three of this blog series. It will surely be my most favorite blog post of all time. I can’t wait to share it with you.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Ghana, I’m Yours (Part One)

Children at the Egyam Orphanage in Ghana, West Africa

It was Fall 2010 and I was preparing to sail on the Spring 2011 Semester at Sea study abroad voyage — in other words, obsessively memorizing every word of the Semester at Sea website and every blog I could find about the SAS experience.

One day, an article popped up about an independently organized trip to an orphanage in rural Ghana. It described how a student, Emma Smith, had contacted the Egyam Orphanage through her church and brought with her donated shoes that she collected from her fellow shipmates.

I creeped around on Facebook until I found Emma’s profile and sent over a message while she was still traveling. When she returned home she got me in touch with the orphanage director, Daniel Payne.

A few months later and I was on the MV Explorer ship myself, trying to recruit students to come with me to visit Egyam.

The morning of the visit arrived. I had gathered a handful of students to join me.

Our journey began with carrying boxes of donated school supplies and toys (left on the ship by Emma) through the Deck 2 gangway. As we were exiting the ship we ran into Brittany App, the voyage’s professional photographer. Brittany was heading into Takoradi, a nearby city in Ghana, but paused as she overheard us discussing our plans. She was interested in the story and asked if she could come along; I replied with a resounding YES YES YES!

We found a couple taxis and started the 45 minute drive to the village.

Over the course of our visit, we met with the founder Thea van den Bosch, of Holland, who was a gracious host. Thea did not speak fluent English but her kindness and warmth was an inspiring comfort for everyone who met her. She took us through the village of Egyam and served us tea and pastries on our return.

Children at the Egyam Grotto Village in Ghana, West Africa

We learned that Thea felt called to open an orphanage in late 2005 after volunteering at local hospitals in Ghana. She realized the disturbing amount of children that were without families and dying in these hospitals all alone.

She really has done an incredible job in creating Egyam. They have over 50 live-in children and around 20 or so children they support in the village. Before and after photos on their website show the impact Egyam has made in their lives.

The highlight of the visit (and a highlight of my entire life) was spending time with the children. I can genuinely say that they changed my life. My heart grew 50 times in size and it began feeling love 50 times deeper and stronger. Their joy for life and abundant happiness despite having so little is absolutely overwhelming.

Children at the Egyam Orphanage in Ghana, West Africa

I particularly felt connected to one of the boys, whose identity I’ve decided to keep private. The second we made eye contact he took my hand and didn’t let go. I mean, really didn’t let go. He had a smile that shined through his eyes, through the pores of his skin.

I spent my entire internet minutes on the ship researching if there was a way that I, at 19 years old, could adopt him. I emailed my parents about it, asking if they could help. I quickly learned that it would not be possible; Ghana has strict laws regarding eligibility for international adoption. Three years later and I still think of him every single day. I’m now just waiting for the moment I’ll see him again, whether in Ghana or here in the United States.

In all honesty, it hurts to write this blog post. I’m on the brink of tears. The thought of leaving all those children frustrates me like no other. I can’t move on and forget them. This is why I started organizing projects to assist in any possible way I could.

Since 2011 I have been recruiting Semester at Sea students to visit the Egyam Orphanage. This year I attempted a massive project that will be completed in April 2014. Students from the Spring 2014 voyage will be hand-delivering boxes full of one-of-a-kind, hand crocheted blankets for each child at the Egyam Orphanage.

I will be posting again this week with more information on the blanket project (and upcoming projects) so keep an eye out! If you’re interested in contributing to future projects you can email me at ZaagiTravel@gmail.com.

That One Time… I Jumped Off a Moving Train in Africa

That One Time… I Jumped Off a Moving Train in Africa. South Africa that is.

This blog post is coming to you due to popular demand. And by popular demand I mean the handful of people that have shown some kind of intrigue when they hear I survived jumping off a moving train.

I wish I’d written this all down when it first happened nearly three years ago. But I’ll do my best to tell it to you here and now.

It is (somewhat) a story of survival. Or near-death. Whichever sounds cooler.

All jokes aside, I feel that I really do owe it to Jonathan and Rachel for helping me get through the experience.

Wait, who are Jonathan and Rachel? Well, you’re about to find out…

I met Rachel first. Only a couple days before. We were paired together for an overnight homestay in a township outside of Capetown. Sleeping overnight in a township is enough to blow the minds of many a South African. But that’s really how we met.

We stayed with the Sandlana family — a mom and dad, 8 fully grown daughters and 5 grandchildren, all living together in a 2 bedroom home. That experience alone deserves it’s own blog post. So for now, just know that Rachel and I bonded over being eaten alive by mosquitoes while we laid in our beds that night.

The next day, once we returned to the ship, we quickly raced to “the 5th deck dining room” of the MV Explorer to grab some lunch. There, I met Jonathan. I’d seen him around the ship before but we’d never spoken.

Before I knew it the three of us were on our way to the Capetown train station, bound for Simons Town — a beach community where penguins migrate to escape the chilly cold of Antarctica.

Fast-forward to that evening… we had seen the penguins and were on our way back to the ship.

This is how my memory serves me:

We boarded a train sometime around 7:30 in the evening.

I was wearing a soft, purple Northface zip-up jacket, khaki capris, a white v-neck t-shirt, a thin purple scarf, and champagne colored Havaiana flip-flops with rhinestones in the shape of a heart beside my big toes. I had a black backpack with me. And I was tired. We all were. It was our fourth day in South Africa and every one of us had been sacrificing sleep in order to experience as much as we could.

So, we board the train. Time passes, stop after stop, waiting til we arrive in Capetown. Around 9:00 we make another stop. Rachel thinks we’ve arrived in Capetown, stands up and gets off the train.

This all happens so fast.

The three of us argue for a brief moment. Jonathan and I urge Rachel to get back on. The train jolts forward. Jonathan follows, yelling “We can’t leave her!” as he jumps onto the platform.

I stop, contemplating in lightning speed whether or not I should stay on the train. Weighing my options.

If I stay on the train I know I can figure out how to get back to the ship. But alone, in the dark, in a country I’ve only been in for four days?

I look back at the people in the train car. 20 or so local men. I think I must have made eye contact with one or a few of them. Something told me to jump. I really didn’t want to, because the few seconds it took for me to make up my mind also meant an increase in the train’s speed.

We’re not exactly sure how fast the train was traveling when I finally jumped.

I do know that I went right foot forward, the movement flung me back up, twisting in mid-air, landing hard on my side and preceding to roll probably a dozen times before coming to a stop.

When I opened my eyes I could see Jonathan and Rachel above me. When I tried to stand up I noticed my toe. That’s where the pain first hit me.

I could barely see it, it was so dark. There was an obvious open wound across my big toe and a fair amount of blood. Drops of it hit the pavement. I looked around, no lights as far as the eye could see.

I remember asking Jonathan and Rachel if it were possible to contract HIV from something on the dirty ground. They assured me I was okay, but I could see the worry on Rachel’s face. The open wound on my foot upset me too. I didn’t want the wound to come in contact with anything.

Then I noticed the soreness in my upper arm and hip. A heavy, dull aching.

Quite some time later I became aware that I was bleeding just below my right elbow. The Northface jacket had been ripped open to expose my dirty, bloody mess of an arm.

My head started hurting. I felt pain all over my body. I was more scared than I could handle.

We walked for what felt like… hours. I truly don’t know how long it was.

We didn’t come across any people, any business, nothing. We were in the middle of nowhere. A couple blocks before we finally stumbled across something, I felt like giving up. My body was tired and it hurt to move an inch. I was both physically and emotionally exhausted. I didn’t give up though. Jonathan and Rachel talked me through it, helping carry much of the weight of my body as well as my spirit.

The business we came across, I want to say it looked something like an internet cafe. The people inside were very confused to see us strolling in — myself, covered in blood and dirt and tears.

I know I sat down on their couch. I know they wouldn’t allow us to call for help. I know a man came forward, Michael. He was from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He held my hand and comforted me and called his friend, a taxi driver in Capetown.

Time passed, another hour maybe. The friend arrived. I said goodbye to Michael, who I like to think of as an angel. Or sent by one. I’m not sure what we would have done if he had not helped us.

And as we drove I stared out the window, concentrating on the lights and colors, trying to stay calm and distract myself from the pain and panic. An hour later we arrived at the ship. I burst into tears when I saw it. The relief I felt, seeing the ship floating on the water in the harbor. Knowing there would be nurses and Dr. Bill to fix me up. And eventually, my bed. I was safe. I was going to be okay. I walked up the 5 flights of stairs, supported by Jonathan and Rachel.

Home. I was going to be okay.

Penguin Colony at Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town, South Africa

Penguins at Boulders Beach in Simon's Town outside of Capetown, South Africa via ZaagiTravel.com

I’d first heard about the penguin colony in South Africa via Pinterest. You’re probably thinking… wait a second, is that even real?! Do penguins really hang out on the sunny beaches of AFRICA? Turns out it is very real. Penguins have been migrating to these particular southern shores since the 1980s.

Naturally I had to go see for myself.

Penguins at Boulders Beach in Simon's Town outside of Capetown, South Africa via ZaagiTravel.com

(Heads up: excuse the less than fantastic photos — these were taken with a sad little point-and-shoot nearly 3 years ago)

Penguins at Boulders Beach in Simon's Town, South Africa via ZaagiTravel.com

So this is how the beginning of the day went:

On my one free day in Capetown during the spring of 2011 I made plans with my new friend Rachel to take a train out to Simon’s Town in search of those adorable, tuxedoed Antarctic natives. Rachel and I had met only a couple days before when we were put together as “sisters” for a stay with a host family at a township outside of Capetown.

While we were grabbing breakfast onboard the MV Explorer we ran into Jonathan, a guy I had never met before but who was interested in seeing the penguins also, and we felt it wouldn’t hurt to have a guy apart of our group — it turns out this serendipitous meeting would later become one of the best things to ever happen to me, because Jonathan helped save my life this same evening, but more on that later.

The three of us started out at the Capetown train station where we bought round-trip tickets to Simon’s Town.

Timetable at Capetown Train Station in South Africa via ZaagiTravel.comWe boarded the train and off we went, on our quest to be as close to the south pole as any of us had ever been — not that we were close, but we were in the southern hemisphere and that itself was cool.

Out the window of the train we could view breath-taking landscapes at every turn.

Out the window of the train heading to Simon's Town, South Africa via ZaagiTravel.com

We arrived and began leisurely walking towards Boulders Beach, stopping to get ice cream and look inside shops along the way.

After crossing the street and strolling along the wooden boardwalk we came to a viewing area where we could see the penguins, who shook themselves free of water and waddled toward us.

Penguins at Boulders Beach in Simon's Town outside of Capetown, South Africa via ZaagiTravel.com

We turned and walked back the way we came to see if we could find another place to view these little guys.

Penguins at Boulders Beach in Simon's Town, South Africa via ZaagiTravel.com

Down one of the paths we came across a protected beach which required an entrance fee. We paid the fee, bought ourselves a South African “Iron Brew” soda, and started down the walkway towards the sand.

Drinking an Iron Brew Soda While Penguin Watching at Boulders Beach in Simon's Town, South Africa via ZaagiTravel.comI rolled up the ends of my jeans and waded into the water. With a few quick maneuvers I climbed up onto a rock next to a group of the penguins and sat there for ten minutes, enjoying the view and the good vibes.

Penguins at Boulders Beach in Simon's Town outside of Capetown, South Africa via ZaagiTravel.com

Penguins at Boulders Beach in Simon's Town, South Africa via ZaagiTravel.com

After leaving the penguins we headed back to the Simon’s Town train station in order to catch the last train back to our ship in Capetown…

Walking back to the train in Simon's Town, South Africa via ZaagiTravel.com

We were completely unaware that I was about to encounter a near-death experience — check back later this week for that story!