Tag Archives: Lulu

The Long Journey Home

My flip-flops and my backpack… 22 months later.

As I sit here on the floor of Abu Dhabi International Airport already a bit jet-lagged but with 18 of my 35-hour total flight time to go, I can’t help but reflect on the last two years I’ve spent living outside of the United States of America.

The first of dozens of international flights since 2010.

I would be lying if I said that I had planned this all from the beginning.  When I left the U.S. in 2010, I assumed I had sold my traithlon bike and my surfboard to buy a ticket to visit my South African boyfriend, not travel around the globe.  But life has a funny way of showing you that not everything can be planned.

Exhibit A: Our puppy, Major. Totally unplanned.

And then I extended my 90-day visa for an additional 90 days purely to stay a little longer in South Africa, not to move to Thailand.  But again, life has a funny way of working.

Motorbiking it around Phuket, Thailand.

Thailand had begun as an idea, a solution for Morgan and I to be able to work/live in the same country while still seeing a bit of the world outside of the United States or South Africa.  What it became was an experience neither of us would trade for the world.  We were English teachers, backpackers, muay thai fighters, hot yoga groupies, scooter-riders, chili-eaters, mountain climbers and the list goes on.

Did I mention how much I loved the little monkeys that were my K1 Watermelon kindergarten class?

And then a decision had to be made: stay in Thailand for at least another year… or go?

Morgan and I both loved our year in Thailand for any number of reasons: friendly people, good jobs, great friends, AMAZING food, awesome hobbies and ridiculously cool experiences.  But for some reason, we both came to the conclusion that we weren’t ready for our lives to be that simple yet, that sorted.  (Idiotic logic, right?)

But I still believe that we made the right decision and away we went, back to Africa.  By this time, however, I had already been hired to start work for African Impact in Mozambique.

Escolinha de Boa Esperanca: the African Impact preschool in Vilanculos, Mozambique.

I had always dreamed of doing community development work in Africa and after three months of online job hunting while still living in Phuket, there it was: my dream job in the small beach town of Vilanculos, Mozambique.  On several occasions, I remember thinking that I was seeing ‘Africa’ for the first time.

Children’s Day at Bernard’s Orphanage in Vilanculos.

And then every community development workers’ nightmare came true: the Office of Immigration in Vilanculos decided to continuously reinterpret their understanding of what volunteer tourism is and what African Impact does as a company, hence my transfer to African Impact projects in St. Lucia, South Africa.

Building a tire course playground at a creche in Khula Township, just outside of St. Lucia.

I missed the project in Mozambique terribly, but I think I even surprised myself by landing on my own two feet in a new country and in a new position, especially when considering this had all come about with 12-hours notice.  I think this was my turning point – when I realized that maybe everything does happen for a reason.  Life is often sink or swim and I was determined to swim no matter what.  And I swam like hell.

How many people can you fit in a 16-passenger van? As a passenger who has counted, I can confidently say 29 people.

As I’ve sat here in my final moments abroad, I’ve struggled to find the right words to sum it all up – to possibly explain to someone how the past two years have not only changed my life, but changed the kind of person I was then to the person I am now.  And what I think of to say is this:

It doesn’t matter where you go or how much money you have or where you’re from – it matters how open you are to embracing the full experience.  The smells, the sounds, the people, the culture, the philosophy, the heart of what it means to be a global citizen.

And as I’ve stated in the ‘About Me’ section of my blog since my very first days blogging about this 22-month long adventure:  I’m far from being the most experienced traveler, but I’ve found that flip-flops and a backpack can take you just about anywhere.

Thank you to anyone reading this who I’ve met over the last two years, whether in Thailand, Bali, Mozambique or South Africa.  You’ve taught me what it means to be family even when you’re far from the family you’ve always known.  And a very special thanks to Lulu and Tex, my South African parents.



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African Authorities and Birthday Stories

The first of many African roadtrips: Mozambique to Swaziland to South Africa.

First things first: Africa, at least what I’ve seen of it, is breathtakingly beautiful.  It has mountains, it has ocean, it has animals, it has some of the most vibrant cultures that still exist today.

…But being able to stay in Africa is not always a piece of cake.

Er…cupcake.  Compliments of Tex and Lulu from Shongweni Farmer’s Market.

It was time for another visa renewal, but this time I had to leave Mozambique.  Luckily, the timing couldn’t have been better: I was going to need to leave Mozambique and enter South Africa just in time for Morgan’s 27th birthday!  I had put some forethought into this and not only arranged with Tex and Lulu for my arrival to be a complete surprise, but I also planned a surprise birthday dinner at Billy the Bum’s in Durban for his actual birthday.  Boy, was he surprised!

The birthday boy and a few friends who stayed for a final nightcap shot at Billy’s.

Once having acquired my new Mozambican visa in Durban, I took the time to enjoy being back in the city and with my Durban family.  We perused the Shongweni Farmer’s Market on Saturday (one of my absolute favorites places to go) and went to the Durban Boat Show on Sunday.  We even got the chance to ride in a Honda AquaLounge, compliments of Morgan’s cousin who was working the show.  It really was a beautiful day on the water.

The AquaLounge

Port of Duban, South Africa

Even though I had a fantastic week in Durban, I was ready to head back to work and friends in Vilanculos.  Unfortunately (and because things in Africa often don’t go as planned), I was not to return to Mozambique.  Due to issues with the Department of Immigration in Vilanculos, we have had to shut down our volunteer programs until further notice.  To be completely honest, I felt pretty terrible.

But every cloud has a silver lining, right?

For the time being, I am working as an additional African Impact volunteer coordinator in St. Lucia, South Africa –  about three hours north of Durban.  It’s a small town (although much more developed than Vilanculos), but a beautiful area of the country that I had yet to visit.  Instead of Vilanculos beaches, we have St. Lucia bush… and with that, a large estuary (also a UNESCO World Heritage site) home to hippos and crocodiles alike.

A family of hippos! Just another day in St. Lucia…

So it is a big adjustment, but there is a phrase that people from African countries or who have visited often use when things don’t go as expected: “This Is Africa” (or “T.I.A”).  From my perspective, it’s the African equivalent of “When in Rome…”

Sunset on the St. Lucia Estuary

But you know, at the end of the day, I can’t really complain.

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One Month in Mozambique

Morgan’s last day at Escolinha de Boa Esperanca preschool.

It’s official: I have been living and working in Mozambique for one month already.

It’s hard to believe that only a few weeks ago, I was stepping off the 20-seat plane onto the tarmac of the tiny Vilanculos International Airport.  I had left Thailand only two weeks before, spent a brief but lovely two weeks in South Africa with Morgan’s family and friends and after a 36-hour delay in Johannesburg, I had landed in the small Mozambican town I will be living in for the rest of year.

A small group of talented preschoolers learning about shapes and colors.

I’ve learned a lot throughout the past month.  I’ve learned how to cook rice in a hut over a fire for 80 preschool kids (thanks, Morgan!).  I’ve learned that there are various degrees of ‘Africa time’ (Durban ‘Africa time’ and Vilanculos ‘Africa time’ are not the same).  I’ve also learned how important African Impact (the organization I work for) is to the community of Vilanculos.

Tatiana, her little cousin Mariela and feisty little Sophia eating their beans and rice before going home for the day.

The preschool that our volunteers come to teach at is completely funded (teacher/night guard/farmer salaries, food for students’ breakfast/lunch and school supplies) by African Impact.  The ultimate goal is for the preschool to become self-sustainable, but at the moment, it’s not possible.

Source: Christine (former African Impact volunteer)

Our newest project is working at an orphanage in Vilanculos, but it’s not an ‘orphanage’ in the big building – lots of beds – and – a – cafeteria sense.  It’s a Mozambican woman with little means, but a big heart who decided to open up her small straw hut compound to children who don’t have anywhere else to go.  Our volunteers teach simple English lessons to the orphanage children on Tuesdays and arrange a fun play day for the kids on Thursdays.

Source: Christine (former African Impact volunteer)

Our third main project is Edson’s Adult English Class.  On Monday and Wednesday afternoons, volunteers teach a two-hour English lesson they’ve prepared earlier in the week to one of four English classes.  The 80 Edson’s students registered are eager to learn English, as it helps get the a better-paying job in the Vilanculos tourism industry.  Classes are taught outdoors on straw mats under a few tall trees.

Over 50 preschool moms have been coming every Saturday morning to help clear more land at school in hopes of expanding the preschool farm.

Throughout the past month both on and off projects, the concept of ‘community’ has been constantly evolving in my mind.  My few weeks in Vilanculos have reinforced the idea that “it takes a community to raise a child” as neighbors and friends here don’t think of themselves as such, but instead, ‘sister’ and ‘brother.’  These brothers and sisters help care for each other’s children, farm each other’s land and often help build one another’s first home.

This isn’t to say that Vilanculos, Mozambique is a perfect place.  Poverty is everywhere.  A small percentage of the population has electricity and running water and like everywhere else in the world (particularly Africa), crime does occur.  Nonetheless, as much as we westerners feel like Africa has to learn from us, we definitely have a thing or two to learn from Africa.

Just because I like this picture… and because I already miss my boy (Morgan flew back to South Africa on Wednesday).

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Durban Days: Back in South Africa

Cruising around Durban in his car like when we first met.

Put simply, Durban is my second home.

Morgan and I started dating here in Durban (*see post An African Boy and an American Girl to read about our cross-continental beginning).  I have friends and a second family here in Durban.  I can even rattle off an extended list of my favorite Durban restaurants and coffee shops.  So naturally, this is where we returned after spending a year in Thailand.

We’ve only had two weeks to spend time with family, hang out with friends and readjust to living life at a faster-than-Phuket pace.  Judging from just a few photos, I don’t think we did half-bad.

Shopping at the Shongweni Farmer's Market with Morgan and Lulu.

Look at all that cheese! One of several cheese stalls at the farmer's market.

Guess who we found in Durban? Will and Greta treated Morgan and I to dinner at an authentic Thai restaurant here in South Africa.

Post-dinner drinks at a rooftop bar. How awesome is this girl?

Friends and former neighbors of ours when we lived in the Glenwood area of Durban. Catching up with Debbie and Travis in Dover Lodge.

What trip to Durban would be complete without lots of downtime with Tex and Lulu? Look at how much they love their boy.

Like any trip home, it’s never possible to see everyone and do everything that you’d like to, but it really has been a wonderful two weeks.  Now, it’s time for the next adventure.  This week I start working as the Project Coordinator for African Impact in Vilanculos, Mozambique!

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My 10 Favorite Things About Phuket

It’s official.  After living 12 months on my island in the sun, our year in Phuket came to an end Thursday when Morgan and I left on a flight to Chiang Mai.

And while I’m excited to be exploring northern Thailand, I’ve also been reminiscing about my days in Phuket.  The possibilities of what to do and where to go and what to eat on the island are endless, but here is a list of the 10 things that made my year truly unforgettable.

10.  Living in a Holiday Destination

My abuelos visited in February 2012.

Phuket is fantastic not just for the beaches and cheap massages, but also because people love to visit for those very reasons!  Over the course of our year on the island, Morgan’s parents visited (*see earlier post, Tex and Lulu Come to Thailand), Morgan’s brother and his girlfriend visited, my good friend Maddy visited (*see earlier post, Arrivals and Departures) and my Abuela and Abuelo visited (*see Mis Abuelos: 77-Year-Old Globetrotters).

9. Riding a Motorbike

The motorbike and the mustache.

To be completely honest, the thought of learning to ride a motorbike in the province with the highest road wreck mortality rate in Thailand was not appealing.  Nonetheless, I was soon won over by the same reasons people probably fall in love with motorcycles: wind whipping your hair, zipping around cars and easily maneuvering through traffic, nothing between you and the wide open road.  Maybe it’s a little less romantic on a Honda Scoopy than on a Harley Davidson, but Phuket isn’t a Harley type of town anyway.

8. Phuket Indy Market

The place to be on a Thursday night in Phuket.

Like many places in Asia, Phuket has a number of outdoor markets, some big and others small.  While Phuket’s Weekend Market is very well known for its size and variety of goods, the Phuket Indy Market is less well known, even to those who live nearby.  Nestled right in the heart of Phuket Town, the market boasts secondhand clothing, handmade crafts, leatherwork and artwork.  You can find the usual market food along the backside of the market and as you eat, you can listen to high-school age bands that come out to perform on the soi.  One of Phuket Town’s many treats.

7. Thai Holidays

Morgan and I releasing our krathong at Saphan Hin on Loi Krathong.

As proud as I am to be an American and to celebrate the generally commercialized holidays that I grew up with, I must admit that Thailand has amazing holiday celebrations.  Whether getting soaked during Songkran (*see my Videos tab), watching people slide swords through their cheeks during the Phuket Vegetarian Festival or setting your krathong on the water to release bad spirits on Loi Krathong (*see my post Loi Loi Krathong), you will be amazed by how much Buddhist culture remains on an island typically known only for its tourism.

6. Kata Hot Yoga 

The free tank top I was given for completing my 30-day challenge.

No, I’d never done hot yoga before moving to Phuket.  Yes, I too used to be one of those narrow-minded people who believed that yoga was for people who couldn’t do ‘real’ sports.  Yes, we were wrong.  (*See my posts, The 30-day Challenge and Been There, Done That, Got the T-Shirt)

5. Green Curry

One of dozens of green curries that I sampled while living in Phuket.

If this needs an explanation, then you’ve never eaten a Thai green curry.

4. Beaches

Kata Noi - my favorite beach.

As a Floridian, I consider myself somewhat of a connoisseur of beaches.  I’ve seen beaches in Florida, North Carolina, California, Cuba, Mexico, South Africa, Thailand and Indonesia.  In my opinion, Thailand’s beaches are some of the most beautiful in the world.  If you don’t believe me, ask one of the nearly two million people that come to visit Phuket each year.

3. Phuket Town

On the corner where I buy pork skewers and sticky rice after school.

Writing this one makes my heart hurt a little bit.  Morgan and I lived in Phuket Town throughout the entire time we were in Phuket.  While most foreign teachers opt to live closer to the beach, my heart was always in Phuket Town.  The food stalls, the Sino-Portuguese architecture, the culture, the community – Phuket Town has it all.

2. My K1 Watermelon Kids

The picture truly captures the essence of my K1 class.

Simply put, these kids were what I woke up for in the morning during my year in Phuket.  To see more about them, just scan over my blog.    I’ve written blog posts about their field trips, posted videos of their performances and included anecdotes from their funniest moments in class.  I was so lucky to have them.

1. My Friends

Last dinner with friends at Sala Mexicali in Phuket.

Is any adventure really complete without good friends?

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The Past Two Weeks in Photos

Thailand flooded. Northern Thailand was hit the hardest, but even down on the Andaman Coast, we had days and days of rain. Source: Lulu

Morgan's parents rode an elephant with this guy as their guide. Source: Tex

Morgan, Tex, Lulu and I took a boat trip out to the beautiful Phi Phi Islands.

Steve Jobs died. These are messages written in his memory by the people of Phuket, Thailand. Source: Morgan

After spending nearly three weeks with us, Tex and Lulu went home to South Africa. Source: Tex

... And I went back to teaching the last few days of summer school. The two weeks concluded with an Ugly Duckling-themed party for the kids.

Friday night dinner with friends at Suay Restaurant in Phuket Town.

A weekend roadtrip with Will and Greta landed us on some islands off the coast of Krabi. The water, the beach and the islands are some of the most beautiful that I've ever seen.

...And most of my one-week holiday I've spent at the beach.

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Tex and Lulu Come to Thailand

Tex and Lulu on their second night in Phuket

Since the moment Morgan and I decided to move to Thailand, his parents decided that they were going to come visit.

Six months later, here they are.

This is Tex’s first trip to Asia and Lulu’s first trip outside of Africa.  As such, they were both very excited and at the same time, didn’t really know what to expect.  When Morgan and I asked them whether they wanted to rent a car or a motorbike during their three-week visit, the decision was largely left up to Lulu.  A down-to-earth and yet very proper lady in all respects, Lulu had never ridden a motorbike and had also never expressed any interest in doing so.  Her answer?

“I want to experience Thailand like the people there live it.  Let’s rent a motorbike!”

…We kept car rental numbers handy, just in case.

And yet, Lulu surprised us all as she confidently hopped on the back of a motorbike the day after they arrived, child-size panda helmet strapped on.

The 'bikers' outside their hotel on Karon Beach.

Since then, Tex and Lulu have done so much eating (they did say that they wanted to live as Thai people do), driving and exploring.

Dinner at After Beach Bar in Kata

Visiting Big Buddha (45m tall) in Chalong

Morgan teaching Lulu how to use chopsticks at Noodle Man

Morgan, Lulu and I at the annual Vegetarian Festival in Phuket Town

Lulu looking out at the sea on our longtail boat ride to Coral Island

Tex and Lulu on a beach in Khao Lak

Stay tuned for more installments of The Adventures of Tex and Lulu in Thailand…


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