When I last posted on here, I just returned home to Michigan from Matt’s bachelor party in Las Vegas. And just in case you were wondering, a month later he finally tied the knot and had one heck of an amazing wedding! I spent a lot of time with the chocolate fountain at the reception, which was conveniently placed a couple of feet away from my table. 🙂
It’s been about eight months since I left Africa and I still constantly find myself thinking about what was one of the greatest summers, if not THE greatest summer, I have ever had. So much in fact that I have been longing for another one just like it, but in a different part of the world. That adventure would come this upcoming June but in the meantime, like I mentioned before, I kept myself pretty busy. I am bound to meet many more interesting new people in addition to the many I have already had the pleasure to share my global experiences with. So over these past eight months, I decided to visit some of the
friends I met around the world on past trips; at least the ones who live somewhat close to me anyways. Starting with…
I met Maria in Cuzco, Peru in 2011. I officially met her on the first day of Spanish class held at the volunteer center, Maximo Nivel. We always had a knack of taking over Plaza de Armas with a big group of volunteers on our free nights. Ahh, those were some very memorable times. I will never forget the time when our Spanish teacher, Jorge, told Maria to ask me a question in correct Spanish. She proceeded to ask me, “¿Cuánto cuesta?”, which translates to “How much do I cost?” I was cracking up immediately when she said that, as was everyone else in the class! Oh Maria.
Maria lives in Toronto, Canada but was coming down to Ann Arbor, Michigan with her law firm to witness Michigan take on Illinois at the Big House. It’s College American Football to all my foreign amigos. I saw Maria last March for her birthday with all her Canadian friends in Toronto (which was a blast!), and I haven’t seen her since. We decided to meet up after the game and catch up! So I picked her and her co-worker up from their hotel in Ann Arbor and showed them around my turf a bit. Since I last saw her, she has gotten a new job and has been keeping busy at it ever since. She told me how everyone I met in Toronto was doing and it seems they are all doing pretty well. I treated Maria to a feast at a fancy restaurant and then took her to Downtown Detroit, my hometown. She’s never been to this area before but I had the privilege to show her the many positive aspects of the city that holds a negative reputation around the world (it’s really not that bad). At the time of her visit, the Detroit Tigers have just defeated the New York Yankees in the second game of the ALCS (American League Championship Series), so I took her to see the grandness of Comerica Park.
We walked around the city as I was explaining as much as I knew about it (not much) but was able to show her sites like Greek Town, the Riverfront, Ford Field, Campus Martius, and the Joe Louis Arena. “Look how close Canada is just across that river Maria, you can swim to it!” She commented on how all of the buildings looked old-fashioned and worn down, a big contrast with the architecture in Toronto. Yeah, Detroit has tons of abandoned buildings and I have no clue what the city plans on doing with them.
Eventually, we crossed the Ambassador Bridge, the bridge that links the U.S. to Canada, and I drove her to the airport in Windsor, Ontario. After a little scuffle with the Canadian customs, we said our farewells to each other yet again. I know I’ll be seeing Maria again soon though.
Now, I never actually volunteered with Chris (yet). We both were teaching in Kayamandi, South Africa but at different times. I volunteered a year after he did, but he and I had taught at the same school, stayed with the same host family (Mama Zulu) and even hung out with the same group of kids His blog he wrote about his experience paved the way for my second outing in South Africa, and I enjoyed every second of it. Once he found out I was going to Kayamandi, he was able to reconnect with his kids through me. The kids called him on my phone, made him videos, and wrote and drew letters and pictures that I would send to him later on. He was very appreciative and I was glad to help out.
Chris lives just two states below me in Pennsylvania, in a suburb near Philadelphia. We decided to meet up sometime and so that’s what we did. I flew to PA for the weekend and met up with the legend himself. Why a legend you ask? I don’t think he realizes just how much of a tremendous impact he left on the township of Kayamandi. During my time there, I heard so many cool stories about him from everyone, it was like he was a fabled myth or something. Before I stepped foot into Pennsylvania, honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. I only knew that I wanted him to help me find the best Philly Cheese Steak sandwich in the world!
Chris scooped me up from the Philly airport and we made our way through the city to his parts. On the way he showed me a couple of books he made with photos of his Africa trip in them. I was able to ask him things all about it and vice-verse. Our Africa trips were similar yet very different at the same time, if that makes any sense. We had a fun-filled weekend ahead of us, so what was first on the agenda? Chris is a dive coach and he planned a special Halloween event with his diving team at a nearby corn maze.
After quickly navigating through the maze, some of the divers parents invited us back to their place for a little after-party. As a matter of fact, the next day we went to someone else’s parents house for a little shin dig there as well. Everyone back home near Detroit would be happy to know that everyone I met here in Pennsylvania so far (besides being super friendly) were rooting for Detroit to win the World Series. We all know how that eventually turned out so I won’t dwell on it.
Then something happened that I wasn’t expecting at all: Hurricane Sandy. I never thought Penn would be affected by it until I got here. The mayor here even declared Pennsylvania a State of Emergency! People were stocking up on water and supplies, and we even saw some people boarding up their windows. You know what we stocked up with? Vitamin water. Loads and loads of Vitamin Water. That’s all we needed! Also, because of Sandy, my stay in Pennsylvania extended from three days to about a week. My flight on that Sunday cancelled and I would be able to fly out the following Thursday. Good news is, Chris was more than accommodating and we had a lot of fun. Bad news was that I was missing some pretty important things going on back at home. But you know what? I made the best of my extended stay.
So over the course of the next few days we carved pumpkins, went to a driving range, ate at Wawa’s a few times, lost all of our money at the nearby casino, and visited a few more of his friends around the area who welcomed me with open arms (and drinks and lots of food!). Chris was hosting a Halloween party at his place on Halloween night. My problem was, I didn’t bring a costume! I didn’t think I needed one until Sandy demanded I stay here a bit longer. So I went out and whipped up something real quick. I transformed into an old-school rapper. You can just call me “D-Money” or simply just “D$” for short.
I got more than I expected coming here and fortunately Sandy didn’t wreak this part of the state as much as it did elsewhere. On the way back to the airport the next day, Chris mentioned how one day he wants to take some of the kids we had in Kayamandi and bring them over to America for a little bit. We came up with ideas and suggestions on how to fund such a feat. It’s possible. At the time of my visit, we were still in the early stages of planning a return to South Africa, both of us together at the same time, where we can reunite with Mawande, Riri, Ski, and the gang once again and also the Zulu family and Isaac. When that happens, I’ll be sure to tell you all about it on here. (Hint: It’s gonna happen soon.) Oh, I never got the chance to find the best Philly Cheese Steak sandwich in the world, but that just gives me another excuse to come back down here again one day.
Interesting note. I actually visited both Maria and Chris again in March and May of 2013, respectively. I took a train to Toronto, Canada to visit her and her boyfriend Dan (along with the rest of their friends whom I’ve already met last year) for Dan’s surprise birthday party. Later on in May, I flew back to Pennsylvania for a ‘Cinco de Drinko Taco Taste Off” that Chris was hosting. I finally got to taste an authentic Philly Cheese Steak sandwich, but more importantly we were able to discuss our plans for something pretty awesome down the road. I’ll tell you all about it soon.