TTS22 Group photo

Sunday, November 24, 2013

TTS22 Parents and Friends,

It’s unbelievable to me that next week is Thanksgiving, and then the next week TTS22 will come to a close – where have the past three months flown? I wanted to share a passage from Alexandra Fuller’s memoir, Scribbling the Cat – a must read, along with her earlier book about growing up throughout southern Africa, Don’t Lets go to the Dogs Tonight.  The girls and teachers often use this passage when preparing for their coming home.  I wanted to share it with all you so that you might understand in part the challenge your daughters will face in crossing the ocean and returning home after their adventures in southern Africa. I also think this passage will help to explain to you why I’m so tardy in sending out my blog update from my time with the girls almost 2 weeks ago?! Yikes.

“It should not be physically possible to get from the banks of the Pepani River (read the waterholes of Etosha National Park) to Wyoming (or Montana or NC or New York or Illinois or . . .) in less than two days, because mentally and emotionally it is impossible.  The shock is too much, the contrast too raw.  We should sail or swim or walk from Africa, letting bits of her drop out of us, and gradually, in this way, assimilate the excesses and liberties of the States in tiny, incremental sips. . .”

Anyway, it does seem to take some time for your soul to catch up when make such an amazing journey.  That’s what I think anyway.

Meanwhile, parents sit patiently at home waiting, eager for some word about your girls and perhaps better still, more photographs to prove they are healthy and happy. Well, I can assure you that your daughters are amazing and have formed a supportive community of strong young women. They laugh easily together, put effort into their school work, find time to revel in impromptu dance parties and are sensitive to each other’s moods and challenges. They move together as a herd and just as easily break off into small groups that form and reform depending on who has a free period or needs help on a math problem. You’d be proud to see how your daughters greet Papa and Benson each morning in Shona, and show their respect for their driver and cook through fixing a cup of tea or riding in the front cab of Big Blue when it’s their day to be chieflet. Your daughters are basking in their newfound friendships and soaking in all they can about the places they’ve been and the people they’ve met. The girls are aware that their time together is now short, and though this is bittersweet, they are positively present in each moment they share together all the while eagerly looking forward to being home with their families and friends.

I wanted to thank those of you who joined me on our TTS22 Campus Visit to Namibia to visit the group.  It was amazing, due mainly to your sense of adventure and joy in all we saw and did together. For those who weren’t able to join us, thanks for your support and presence for your daughters from home. Your daughters missed you, though we tried to make these days special for all the girls. Brenna recounts some of the highlights below:

The Campus Visit started with a skit by the girls to share how to travel in southern Africa and ended with a skit from the parents [which I'm still trying to post and is hilarious]. After, the excitement wore off on the first day; we spent time learning about Okonjima’s Africats Foundation and then went for an evening game drive and stopped to watch the sun set. Days at Okonjima were filled with students and parents lending a hand cleaning up the brush from evasive plants, to learning about why cats are endangered in the first place. Peri and Megan especially loved the bush clearing; both felt accomplished at the end and enjoyed the physical aspect of the work.  Every night we spent time with each other on the game drives looking for cats and animals, but finishing our days watching the sun sink beneath the red dirt gave the group a sense of community.

After Okonjima we travelled to Etosha National Park where parents were able to take their turn on Big Blue with their daughters for a morning game drive. Etosha-- -- is famous for its watering holes. During our last night, many viewed four rare black rhinos taking an evening bath as lions watched patiently, waiting their turn to drink. Here too, the group enjoyed time in the pool during our hot days. Juliana, Molly, Natalie, Sarah and Lindsay enjoyed a fun round of the whirlpool game in the kiddie pool which was perfect for a break in the middle of the day when the heat had reached its peaked – over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Some of the animals we saw in Etosha matched the girls’ new totems, and they were quite excited. Anna is the ostrich and enjoyed greeting her family while driving through the park. We were very lucky to see black rhinos and a cheetah with three cubs, along with well over 10 lions and cubs along the way. Lucky us. Though we’re not sure it was luck or Ngwena (papa) and his expertise at finding animals.

The parent trip came to a close early in the morning with hugs to go around. Now we are sixteen students and four teachers with Papa and a Benson. We are back to our small group with more adventures ahead of us in the last few weeks.  

Brenna, Mhofu the Eland

I (Jennifer) was able to spend a bit of time with the group prior to the parent trip. I met up with the entire group in Swakopmund and accompanied the group to the magical orange sand dunes for sandboarding. Ariela took her own route at one point; Mara was sure she would wipe out—and she did on her first run, but not on the remaining 6 runs! Maeve was clocked at over 70kph at the bottom of the fastest run, and along with Sarah and Lindsay, went for at least two extra runs before joining the group for the final ride back to the van.
Emilee enjoying the downhills
Waiting for the next run
Papa (the crocodile) presented the much-awaited totems to the students the night before I picked the parents up in Windhoek. He had Brenna read the girls an explanation about totems first, and then made them promise not to ask him why they were given their totems, “Do not ask me. I do not know,” Papa explained. He then proceeded to tick off each of the teachers and girls, their totems or spirit animal names in English and in Shona, his native language. Papa told the girls from that point onwards, he would know them by their totem names, and he clearly hoped that each student would use these Shona words to refer to themselves and each other for the rest of the trip. Sometimes Papa would describe the animal or its characteristics, but always he would remind the girls not to ask him why, “I do not know,” he repeated with a smile.
Papa giving out totems
Jennifer (Mbizi—the Zebra)

TTS22 Totems:

Natalie, Nhathi the Cape Buffalo
Lindsay, Nzoli the Elephant
Juliana, Mbada the Leopard
Sarah, Nhoro the Kudu

Megan, Chitszre the Honey Badger
Katherine, Ngamo the Gemsbok
Ariela & Aunge, Chipembere the Rhinoceros

Anna (Bird), Mhou the Ostrich
Hannah, Twiza the giraffe & Peri, Mhara the impala
Anne, Mhumhi the Wild Dog
Mara, Shumba the Lion

Eleanor, Tsoko the Monkey
Maeve & Papa, Ngwena the Crocodile
Emilee, Haka the Pangolin 

Brenna, Mhofu, the Eland


Molly, Dendera the Ground Hornbill

Sylvia, Hwata the Secretary Bird
Sarah, Hungwe, the Fish Eagle
Heather, Chapungue, the Bateleur Eagle


  1. I agree with you and Alexandra. It gets to the heart of why we travel, doesn't it? And so a part of me wants to hold onto the shock and the contrast of the return as well as the memories of the trip. I want to maintain a bit of Africa in my life. I don't mean to minimize in any way the challenge the girls face in returning to the states. I only hope to understand it just a little.

    Thanks for the photos of the totems. I never did get to hear all of them, so it's good to see them matched. I think Papa has a true gift.

  2. Thank you Jennifer and Brenna. I so enjoyed this post, I have goosebumps reading this. Papa called me Mama Mhofu (the Eland). I am very proud to be a part of Papa's totem.