9. Celebrating a Birthday

Happy birthday, A****! Unfortunately, for adoption purposes, we're not allowed to post pictures of babies at the Door of Hope. She turned one today against doctors' predictions that she would not make it to her first birthday. Born three months premature, she has problems with her heart, lungs (surfactant, anybody?), and liver. Obviously, today called for great celebration.

Several people came to visit the Door of Hope today; there were two journalists who interviewed Russell (what a hotshot), two families came to play with the babies, and a bunch of workers came in to repair the water heater and replace the kitchen counters. The house was busy with activity, and to be honest, it was nice not to be the least knowledgeable person in the house for once.

And now to watch Hotel Rwanda, since I've never seen it before. And where would it be more appropriate to watch it than here in South Africa? Well, in Rwanda, I suppose.

8. Wrestling with Cubs

This morning, I went with several of the Door of Hope volunteers to the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve, a privately owned Gauteng game reserve. It was a very different experience from the one we had at Pilanesberg National Park. We started off with a visit to the Wonder Cave, which is the only active cave in South Africa, meaning that its stalactites and stalagmites are still growing. It's a good thing we went, because as the sign at the park entry told us, "If you don't visit the Wonder Cave, you'll always WONDER..."

Unlike Pilanesberg, the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve does not have any elephants or giraffes, due to its high elevation. In fact, it used to have two giraffes, but when one of them was killed by a lightning strike, they moved the other one to another reserve. However, it does have a Predator Camp, where you can see lions, tigers, and cheetahs (oh my!).

By far the best part of the park was the Animal Crèche, where you can play with the baby lions and tigers. Never in my life did I imagine that I would get to pet a tiger cub or wrestle a lion cub! ASKJEHOIVCOXIQEF!! It was all fun and games, until we had to leave and one of the lion cubs bit the sleeve of my hoodie and sank its claws in and wouldn't let me go. Rut roh.

On our way home, we stopped to eat at Carnivores, the South African equivalent of a Brazilian steakhouse. ZOMG! I got to eat all of the animals we'd seen at the park that day. Well, all of the ones that aren't endangered, anyway. I can't even decide which one was my favorite... it was a four-way tie between the crocodile, zebra, warthog, and kudu. I am the ultimate predator! ROAR!!

7. Learning History

I'm back "home" in Johannesburg now, but before we left Cape Town, Russell and I visited Robben Island. Unfortunately, I didn't really know anything about apartheid or South African history in general. In fact, everything I knew about Robben Island before I visited, I learned from that season of America's Next Top Model that I watched with Catherine. I faintly recall the black girl getting really mad because the half-black girl is chosen to unlock the gate to Nelson Mandela's prison cage.

Anyway, our visit to the maximum security prison was incredibly powerful. All of the tours are given by former political prisoners, making the experience all the more intense. Our tour guide was imprisoned for "terrorism" for seven years, starting from when he was only 17 years old. He had an incredible story, as did all of the political prisoners who were once held there.

The only low point of the day was watching the USA vs. Brazil Confederations Cup Final tonight. It was pretty demoralizing to see us fall from a 2-0 lead to a 2-3 loss. Alas, there's always next year...

6. Climbing Mountains

We just spent the entire day in the great outdoors. After a late start (we slept in until 9am this morning), we headed to Cape Peninsula National Park. Along the way, we stopped at a random beach to play with the penguins. Or at least, I tried to play with them... they kept running away from me when I waddled towards them. We also passed several baboons with pink butts (Rafiki!?) on the side of the road.

We spent several hours hiking around the park, visiting both Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. I can't imagine what it would be like to be Diaz or Da Gamma, rounding the southern tip of Africa and discovering that there was more land on the other side. I can, however, imagine what it would be like to fall off the cliffs and plummet to your death, because I was in constant fear that it would happen to me.

After taking approximately 12938290318 photos at the most Southwestern point of Africa, we drove to Table Mountain, believed to be the oldest mountain in the world. We opted to ride the funicular (or cable car) all the way to the top instead of doing the extremely long and difficult hike because it was so late in the day, although I'd love to be able to do that at some point. We ended the day with a ridiculously cheap but delicious dinner at Hout Bay. Seriously, is this paradise?

Now it's time to go meet some fellow travelers at the hostel bar. Peace out, cub scout.

5. Tasting Wine

Russell and I arrived in Cape Town this afternoon, and it is more beautiful than I could have possibly imagined. The city is situated in between the mountains and the ocean, which I've never seen anywhere else before. The views are spectacular here, and I can't wait to show you guys pictures of it.

Unfortunately, the pictures will all be taken on Russell's camera, because as I was getting out of our rental car, my camera fell out of my lap, and now the backlight doesn't work and I can't tell what I'm taking pictures of anymore. Ah well, perhaps this will be a good excuse for me to buy a digital SLR to use for the rest of the trip... hooray for loan money (or, as I like to look at it, Monopoly money)!

The first thing we did when we got here was to go wine tasting. Cape Town is the heart of the South African wine industry, and all of the vineyards are in the same part of the city, so we literally drove down one road and hopped from one vineyard to the next. We finished off by going to a distillery, where they gave us a brandy-chocolate-coffee tasting, which is by far the hoity-toitiest thing I've ever done in my life. When we left, they encouraged us to come back again tomorrow, and I'm not gonna lie, I'm pretty tempted.

As you can imagine, after a few wine tastings and a brandy tasting, I was pretty well on my way to drunktown. We stopped for dinner on the waterfront, where I think I did a pretty good job of not embarassing myself, and then checked into the hostel that we're staying at. This is by far the nicest hostel I have ever been to: private two-bed bedrooms, a kitchen, free internet, and everything else you would ever need.

Well, everything except for a new camera. Sigh.

4. Playing with the Kids

Spending hours upon hours of "staring intently" (as Emily would say) at the bushveld in search of wildlife is very tiring. I was supposed to go to work this morning with Russell, but instead I slept in and he drove home from work later to pick me up. I spent the morning playing with the special needs babies in the Starfish room, and I spent the afternoon playing with the older babies upstairs.

One of the four-month-olds, A****, kept crying, so I spent the majority of the time holding her to calm her down. Eventually, she fell asleep, and I was still so exhausted from yesterday that I just fell asleep with her. We had a nice, hour-long nap on the couch, and I woke up just in time to feed her at 3pm. Apparently I have the sleeping schedule of a baby.

Now I'm sitting at home, watching Marci X with Cornee, Russell's 40-year-old roommate from Holland, while Russell is out on a date. I also just bought plane tickets to Cape Town for the weekend. What is going on my life??

3. Touring the Bushveld

This morning I woke up extra early so I could take a bath (Russell's apartment doesn't have a shower) before we left for Pilanesberg National Park. You know how you learn in elementary school that water goes down the drain in a counterclockwise motion in the Southern Hemisphere? I was so excited to see it for myself when I came here, but it turns out that it was all a lie. I stared at the bathtub drain for several minutes in disbelief as I watched the water swirling in the clockwise direction, the same way it does in the Northern Hemisphere. Sigh.

Aside from questioning everything I had ever learned as a child, today was absolutely amazing. We saw several giraffes, zebras, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses, springboks, and countless other animals. It was basically just like The Lion King, only RIGHT IN FRONT OF MY FACE.

And now, some pictures from my trip thus far.

Andrew, me, Trey, and Matt in Spain

Roman Aqueduct in Segovia

Alcazar Castle, which Andrew claims is the inspiration for the castle from Beauty and the Beast

George the Giraffe, or so I decided to name him

Zebras crossing the road


2. Settling In

Russell had to go in to work early today, so I opted to stay at home and sleep in, giving me a full day and nothing to do. Unfortunately, Russell only has one key to the gate, so I couldn't leave to go anywhere. I was literally under house arrest. And it was awesome, because I played Worms Armageddon and Rise of Nations (the Microsoft version of Age of Empires) all day. It's a good thing I decided to bring my old laptop... I forgot how many games I had on here!

Tonight, I went to dinner at an Italian restaurant called Cappolla with Russell and two of his friends from his Zulu class. Slosh is an Indian-South African who works for Cadbury here, and Olivier is a Frenchman working as a bank analyst here. The two of them made Russell and me each take a shot of "Sowetan Toilet," and I'm still not sure what went in it, but I do know that it contained banana liqueur, and it tasted amazing. If you see a picture of it, you'll understand the reason for its name.

Okay time for bed... I have to be up at 5am tomorrow, because we're going to the gaming park. I'm not coming back without some bushmeat, om nom nom nom nom!*

*Just kidding. I don't really want to eat any monkeys while I'm here... or do I?

1. Jet Setting

Catherine, you were right. If anyone can blog from South Africa, it's me. Here is my first travel journal update.

My trip to Johannesburg was full of twists and surprises. When I checked in at Dulles Airport, I learned that I would no longer be flying through Barcelona. Instead, they routed me through Madrid, where I would have a 15-hour layover. Joy. The first thing I did was call around until I got in touch with someone from Jubilate who could contact Christa and let her know that I wouldn't be able to meet up with her on Saturday. Unfortunately, I just learned that Derek failed me and never e-mailed Christa or found someone who could. Derek, I will never forgive you for this! [shakes fist in the air]

I ate one last dinner with my parents (homemade dumplings, mmm!), and then I went through security to wait for my boarding call. Just as I was about to get on the plane, I looked up and saw Matt. Apparently we were on the same flight, and neither of us even knew that the other person was going to Madrid (granted, I didn't even know that I was going until an hour earlier). We tried to sit next to each other on the plane, but the lady next to me was traveling with a large group, and the guy next to Matt was a jerk. He refused to switch with me even though he was traveling alone, and according to Matt, he was reading some book titled How to Live Life with Pleasure. I'm sorry, but only a jerk would read a self-help book with that name.

The flight to Madrid was otherwise pretty uneventful. I sat next to Judy, a semi-retired teacher who still substitutes from time to time. The flight itself was kind of bumpy; in fact, it was the bumpiest plane ride I've ever been on. Iberia more than made up for this by serving us glorious, glorious food. Some of the best airline food I can remember having, actually. They brought dinner around at 10:30pm (my second one, of course), and they also provided us with breakfast before we landed. Om nom nom!

I met up with Matt at customs, and we were greeted at the airport exit by his brother, Andrew, and his friend, Trey. Andrew reminds me a lot of Matt, albeit a little bit nicer, better at Spanish, and less grumpy (Matt, if you're reading this, I like you a lot, but I'm sorry, it's true). They were planning on renting a car anyway, so I hung out with them all day. Thank goodness I ran into Matt, because there was no way I could have survived 15 hours in the Madrid airport by myself. We visited the Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso, a quaint meadow nearby with lots of horses, and the historic town of Segovia (pictures to come, of course). At the end of the day, I took one of the fast-speed trains back into Madrid and hopped on the subway back to the airport.

My second flight was not as pleasant as my first one, mostly because it was my second red-eye in a row, and I was exhausted from my day in Madrid. I met a few members of the South African Special Olympics women's basketball team, which was pretty cool. I also had an empty seat next to me, which allowed me to spread out a little, and a Tom Selleck look-alike sitting two seats away from me. Unfortunately, there was a baby traveling in the seat across the aisle from me. He was very cute, but his incessant crying was not. Suffice it to say that I did not get a lot of sleep last night, either.

But here I am in Johannesburg, sitting at a computer at Door of Hope, where Russell works. Here's to an exciting six and a half weeks ahead!

Off We Go!

Welp, this is it. I'm finally done packing (almost), and I'm about to head out the door to make the long drive up I-95 to Dulles Airport. It's hard to believe that in less than 24 hours, I will be in Barcelona with Christa, and that in less than 48 hours, I will be in Johannesburg with Russell.

Africa, here I come! And you'd better believe that I'll be singing this song the whole way there!

Some Things Never Change

Having returned to Richmond, my logical next step was to immediately go over to Kathryn's house. It was good to hear about wine school, tell her about medical school, and re-realize just how much of a stalker she is. Here are some excerpts from our conversation that, even when heard in context, would amaze and terrify you.

Kathryn: So according to Facebook, Justin has a girlfriend now.
Sam: Really? I wonder if there are any pictures of them together.
Kathryn: There aren't. Trust me. I've looked.

Kathryn: Have you blogged today?
Sam: Hmm... I don't...
Kathryn: [interrupts] No, the last time you posted was 17 hours ago.

I'm not kidding when I say that if I ever needed information on someone, Kathryn is the first and only person I would call.

Back in the 804

...and it's good to be back. I walked into the kitchen and there was an endless amount of shrimp friend rice, broccoli, and green beans waiting for me. Nothing says "home" like a healthy dose of Mom's cooking.

Speaking of Mom, I think she was a little bit offended when I told her that I almost put off coming home for another day because it was so hard for me to leave Titan behind. It's not like I said that I loved him more than I loved my parents... I only implied it. Anyway, I know Titan is in good hands. Nick is in charge of feeding him and letting him out, and I have assigned each day of the week to a different friend to exercise him. Titan's probably not even going to remember me when I come back in seven weeks... [sniffle]

Noo Shoos!

My old pair of running shoes are pretty much entirely worn out, and I have cleverly avoided any serious cardiovascular exercise during the past month or so by postponing the purchase of new ones. But, since I plan on running a lot while I'm in Africa, I finally took the plunge today and blew $100 of loan money on a new pair of Brooks Adrenaline GTS 9 running shoes. It put quite a dent in my bank account, but I'm pretty sure that training in Africa will pay off. I heard that you can take 30 seconds off of your mile time just by touching a Kenyan.

I actually almost missed my opportunity to go to Africa, though, when I walked out of the shower this afternoon and found Titan chewing on an envelope. Luckily, I stopped him before he got to my airplane tickets that were sitting inside. Needless to say, I gave him a very stern disciplining session. Oh, silly puppy.

High School Reunion

Tania came back to Charlottesville last night, which spurred a mini-high school reunion in my living room. It's always good to know that no matter how long it's been since I last saw my high school friends, we can always pick up exactly where we left off, and they can always make me laugh until I cry. It's also good to know that Tania watches more TV than anyone else in the entire world. Her secret? NinjaVideo.

Speaking of high school reunions, Christin, Ashley, and I met with Mr. Waller from the Maggie L. Walker Governor's School for Government and International Studies Foundation (yes, that is their full name) today to discuss our five year reunion. Man, I can't wait to see what my old high school friends are up to these days! Too bad I already know because I went to college with half of them and stalk the rest of them on Facebook!

The Aftermath

So, exams are over, and summer has officially begun. Sadly, I don't even know what to do with my newfound freedom. When I woke up this morning, the first thought that ran through my head was all of the complications that could arise with delivery of a premature infant. It's like my brain won't slow down, and my body doesn't know how to handle this stress-free environment. What to do, what to do!?

Oh, I know: clean up my house, which is now in shambles thanks to the hurricane force known as SMD12. My friends are truly more frightening than Mother Nature herself.

Oh, God.




Open Letter to My Brain

Dear Hippocampus,

I know I have worked you very hard over the past few days. Thanks for sticking with me through the Pharmacology exam. I would give you a gold star if I had one. Now please purge yourself of all drug names, mechanisms, treatments, side effects, and contraindications so that I can fill you with disease names, etiologies, symptoms, and prognoses. Kthxbye!


The Lord's Day

I woke up this morning with intentions of studying before I went to church, but somehow I found myself playing Tetris instead. Shocking, I know. I only played one game, though. Unfortunately, that game ended up taking 40 minutes. On the bright side, I finally scored over 100,000 points (136,481 to be exact). God, I have no life.

One of the elderly men at church fell down the stairs of the balcony during the litany. He cut open his head, but at least he didn't fall over the railing.

I noticed a rock in my shoe earlier today, but every time I tried to shake it out, there was nothing there. Finally, I removed my sock, and out fell a penny. I'm rich!

Seven Degrees of Separation

At lunch the other day, Katerina revealed to us that her cousin's cousin is married to Emilio Estevez, star of such classic films as St. Elmo's Fire, Loaded Weapon 1, and The Mighty Ducks series. Of course the first thing I thought of was the Emilio Estevez game, which I hadn't thought about in years. Michelle introduced it to me during our trip to Europe after second year, and it kept us entertained during our long train rides. So, how do you play?

Basically, you think of a clever pun, give the rest of the group a clue in question form, and see if they can figure it out. For example:

What do you call a very masculine Emilio?
Emilio Hairy Chest-evez!

What do you call frat boy Emilio?
Emilio No Means Yes-tevez!

What do you call rambling Emilio?
Emilio I Digress-tevez!

Get it? Your turn.

(P)eau d'Orange

My high school friends took gifting very seriously. I don't really know why, but I remember birthdays and Christmas being a really big thing for us. Every year, I would spend over $400 on Christmas presents for my closest friends. In retrospect, it was kind of ridiculous, but then again, someone's gotta keep this "economy" thing afloat.

One of the gifts that I still use today was from my friend Ben. One Christmas, he gave me Royall Manderin Eau de Cologne. I'm pretty sure it was regifted, mostly because when he gave it to me, he said in his typical Ben manner, "Uhh, I don't really know what this is... I think it's like, aftershave or something. HAHA!" Anyway, I love it because, well, I love oranges. I hate it because every time I wear it, I end up smelling myself all day, and it induces excessive polyphagia. Hey, I can't help it that my wrist is so OM NOM NOMable!

Lonely, I'm Mr. Lonely

Where did everybody go? Nick is in Russia, Pete is in England, Dylan is at the Outer Banks, and here I am, stuck in Charlottesville, studying for my exams. I guess the silver lining is that I have the house to myself for a few days, which makes me feel both alone and liberated all at the same time. I'm totally walking around nakey for the rest of the week! WHOO!!

It's hard to believe that in less than three weeks, I'll be landing in South Africa. To prepare, I've started looking for people who can help me take care of Titan while I'm gone. I jokingly asked for a resume, a transcript, and three recommendation letters, and this is the e-mail response that I got from Catherine.

Hello. We've never met before, but I'd like to take care of your dog sometimes. My resume is included below.

1986-2004: Ok, so I never had a dog, but I always wanted one. I had rabbits, but they died. We kept one of them on ice for days. Is that weird?

2004-2007: Dog Rapist: self-employed, self-explanatory

2007-present: Dog Murderer: I'm good at what I do.

So, interested?

Game Over

A wise man once said, "Death smiles at us all. All a man can do is smile back." Okay, so that wise man was the fictional character Maximus from Gladiator, but whatever. I was smiling today when Bob came up behind me at the library, pressed a watergun to my back, and informed me that he was about to kill me.

Ah well, it's been a good run. I've enjoyed every minute of the game, from the straw in the mouth to the sharpie tattoo of Pikachu to the Wolverine claws made out of plastic knives and everything in between. I knew my time had come when I found out last night that Matt had stolen the white lab coat that I was going to tie-dye for my immunity today. To my surprise, I actually felt relief instead of anger. I can finally start studying for those pesky exams that start next Monday, something I've been neglecting to do in the midst of all of this past week's NBA playoffs, beer tasting, and hiking. I am still in medical school, right?