Greetings from South Africa!
Site 2 arrived safe and sound in Johannesburg on Tuesday, January 10, after two full days of travel or more. Exhausted from long plane rides and layovers, we were relieved to be taken straight to a retreat centre to spend a week relaxing, reconnecting, and easing into life in South Africa. Rocky Valley Christian Camp and Retreat Centre near Johannesburg treated us well with amazing food, gorgeous scenery and hikes, and refreshing manmade and natural pools.
The first thing we all noticed when we stepped off the plane was the heat. Coming from up to a few feet of snow and temperatures as low as -30, the bright sun and nearly +30 degree weather brought smiles to everyone. Over the week we would learn how to dress for the weather, as the sun woke us up at 5:30AM, fried our skin and drenched us with sweat throughout the day, then set suddenly at 7PM for a cool evening. Sunscreen quickly became part of our daily routines (more than once), and our normal hikes for adventure turned into searching for the best watering hole to cool off in during all our free time. The camp has a pool right in the sun, and a creek that runs past the camp with many gorgeous waterfalls and naturally formed pools along the way, that were put to use many times every day. We also learned that along with sunscreen and swimming, a very important part of bearing the heat is drinking water. Hydration is key to survive the African summer, so we carry our water bottles everywhere, and are very grateful for the clean water wherever we go.
The next thing we had to adjust ourselves to was the time. When we landed it was about 9:30AM, and staying awake for the rest of the day turned out to be a much bigger struggle than we could have imagined. Unfortunately, sleeping through entire flights is unrealistic, and we had people running on as little as 40 minutes of sleep in 2 days, going on 3 days as we tried to beat jet lag by staying awake the first day we were in South Africa. Traveling from home to South Africa, students and leaders were now anywhere from 6 to 12 hours ahead of their normal time zone, and we struggled to help our bodies catch up to the new time. It took a few days to beat the jet lag, but the first day was the hardest as we strived to stay awake until supper, and then everyone crashed as soon as they could afterwards.
Despite the few struggles in adjusting to a new country, we have been very blessed with our new surroundings. Rocky Valley is exactly what it sounds like: a valley between many rocky hills and cliff faces. The adventurous in spirit were easily able to find much solitude in hiking the ever-changing terrain, climbing up rock walls, and exploring what felt like a whole new world. We found monkeys, lizards, bridges, naturally formed pools, waterfalls, and rock climbing cliff faces, and admired the gorgeous sunrises and sunsets from the top of the hills.
This past week also provided us with a wonderful environment to reconnect with each other and be introduced to some of the South African culture. We had lots of free time to catch up with our friends, and some organized times in small groups and PMGs to share about our breaks. We had amazing meals all week that were usually seemed pretty normal to us but were just a little bit different (ex. they don’t have ketchup; they have tomato sauce), and we got to observe and experience a small taste of South African culture as we drove through Johannesburg and went to the mall to try out their cash and phone systems. We also had lessons from each of our leaders, a South African partner, and Paul Peters, on topics like the stages of adjusting to a new culture, being aware of our privilege, and owning our own stories.
Our week in Rocky Valley was refreshing and exciting, and as we drove into Soweto on Saturday and were greeted with dozens of eager, smiling little faces, and tiny waving hands, we knew we were in for a whole new type of adventure, and couldn’t wait for it to start.