I promised that one day I would visit Ukuthula and the bush - and I finally did. The week prior to boarding the Voyager in Cape Town I flew to Johannesburg for a visit with Captain Guillou, his wife Danielle, daughter Gael and her husband Richard and 3 year old Leah.
I have to start by saying that the weather in Cape Town was glorious, about 90 F. Not thinking that Johannesburg would be different I packed my small carry-on with summer clothes and one sweater, the rest was left in storage at the hotel. When I got on the Mango Air flight (yes, Mango Air!) the pilot said there were thunderstorms up ahead and the weather in Johannesburg was 47 F. The lady next to me looked as surprised as I was and asked if he did say 47?
Upon take off the same lady and I watched the safety video which was a very cute animation. We laughed at the little character that was bandaged after having bags fall on his head during turbulence.
About one hour into the flight the captain came on the intercom to say that there were severe thunderstorms ahead and there was no way higher or lower to go around them so please stay seated and… no sooner had he said that the plane dropped I don’t know how many feet. It made a huge bang! The flight attendant who was serving in the aisle was air born and hit her head on the storage bins, her cart went flying too. When we stopped falling we were sideways. I had a window seat and could see we were perpendicular to the horizon. We didn’t stop bucking and heaving. People were screaming. I’ve never been on a plane where people were actually screaming. It was scary. The captain came on and was audibly shaken; he said this would persist for another 20 minutes so please stay securely seated. After that no one made a sound. Even when the plane leveled off no one spoke. It was surreal.
On the ground in Johannesburg it was freezing cold and pouring down rain. I had no coat and nothing more to put on. When Gael came to pick me up she was wearing thick woolen tights, boots and a coat. Once home she gave me socks and slippers, the next day she gave me long pants, shoes, sweaters and a coat. I was so grateful.
Gael used to work for the United Nations and now works with AIDS organizations around Africa. She took me to a project in Soweto called Little Rose. This meager set of old railroad box cars have been converted into classrooms, clinics, kitchen and a small dormitory for children who are AIDS orphans or the children of HIV/AIDS infected parents. There were 47 children in each of the two classes ages 4 - 6 and 6 - 8. For many of them the plate of beans would be their only hot meal. The woman in charge said $3,000 would build them a permanent structure. I came away wanting so much to help. When I returned to the ship I spoke with guests who gave me good ideas about fund-raising. If any of you know how we can help I would sincerely appreciate your input. The funds would be managed by Captain Guillou’s daughter, Gael.
The next day Captain Guillou drove me to Ukuthula - their property in the bush outside of Pretoria where they built a house and his wife created an incredible Spa. The property is within a game reserve. Originally they fenced in the reserve and allowed the animals inside to roam free. Predators (The Big Five - lion, leopard, water buffalo, hippo, rhino) where removed. Well, without predators to regulate the population some of the other animals have increased too much. So the Big Five are being re-introduced. An electric fence is now around the house, soon there will be lions at their back door. I asked Captain to promise to tell me when they see their first lion. Can you imagine?
The final day was Leah’s 3rd birthday. We spent the evening before decorating the house. She had Zulu Storytellers, live music and treats. It was as much for the adults as the kids. The sun did not come out until an hour before I left. When I arrived back in Cape Town it was still sweltering heat.
It was great seeing Captain Guillou. He told me many more stories that I had never heard — ones that one day I hope to share. There is no one else like Jean-Marie Guillou and I am so happy that I had a chance to see him again and tell all his fans that he is doing well. He has his two dogs - Choco and Pepito. Life is good. And for those kids in Soweto where life is not so good — again, if anyone knows of a way we can help — please, please, please let me know. Thank you. Captain thanks you as well.