I wanted to share this
amazing e-mail from my friend Suzi Cloutier. Suzi paddles with Wasabi
Women Team Huge in Portland Oregon – who have been the US National
Women's Dragon Boat team for 2001 and 2003. Suzi was also a former
sprint kayak racer with the US National team.
Check out the following website for a short profile on Suzi as a sponsored amateur athelete by Balance Bars. http://www.balance.com/grants/Recipients.asp
Everything was so amazing
that I am feeling that this was just one big dream. The journey was a
long one with two flights of 10 hours each, a 12-hour lay over in
Frankfurt Germany, and another in Johannesburg. All of this toting my
luggage plus several 40 lb. bags of medical supplies, toys and books
for my humanitarian work after the races.
We stayed the first week in an old
converted jail in Capetown, ate great food, enjoyed a lavish reception
at the US Consulates house and some of the most challenging race
conditions we have ever seen. Big choppy waves, high winds, strong
currents, rain and thunderstorms- ahhh, just like training in Portland
except for the fact that there were cape fur seals swimming alongside
our boats and a huge variety of beautiful Jellyfish swimming under
them. We did very well, winning all but 2 of our heats. The competition
was tough but we were tougher. There is nothing sweeter than standing
on the podium, gold medal around your neck and hearing your country's
national anthem playing. Very nice.
After the races we were off to the
Western Cape to stay at a lodge on the Breede River. It was set in an
area called 'bushveld' in Afrikaans- a high desert type area with giant
aloe plants and where every other shrub sports huge thorns. We ran the
Breede river in rubber kayaks- and the guide and I proceeded to surf
every wave possible- with the team looking on in awed amazement (ok,
maybe more like- what ARE you doing?) I managed to trash myself nicely
in a hole and sacrifice my sunglasses and watch to the river gods (now
I remember why I stopped running whitewater- too expensive!).
While my team traveled on to Hemanus
Beach for more R and R, I caught a ride back to a large Township called
Kailishta which houses more than 1 million of the areas poorest Black
families- a sad reality still left over of the Apartheid era where
blacks and coloreds were considered only 'partially human' and were
issued “dumbpasses” in order to work in the cities. They were not
allowed to live there amongst the whites however and were beaten and
jailed if caught outside their Shantytowns after 6pm.
Apartheid mercifully ended 10 years ago
with the election of former political prisoner, Nelson Mandela into the
presidency yet the suffering of the black population is still
devastating. I stayed with a wonderful woman named Vicky, her husband
and 4 children in their pieced together metal and wooden handmade
Although I was the only white person in
the entire township, I could not have been treated more kindly. The
township kids and I played soccer in the dirt street with an improvised
ball made out of a garbage stuffed bag. We sat on the front step and
sang Brittany Spears songs and I taught them “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”.
All the while the thin, sick and feral township dogs snuffed around for
scraps to eat. For the remainder of my days I went to 3 different
townships schools with my new friend at the Amy Beil Foundation and
read to the kids, did crafts projects, helped them with their English,
learned a little Xhosha (southern Africa native tongue) and distributed
The disparity between the wealthy and
ultra poor was a devastating reality and I hope to never forget the
people that struggle to live in such heartbreaking conditions. I was
there during the 10th election since the fall of apartheid- the African
National Congress won again and with the guidance of Mbecki, I can only
hope that the next 10 years brings them leaps and bounds forward into
full equality with the whites.
In between I was able to visit the
beautiful Table Mountain which looms over the City where I saw rock
Hyraxes (the closest relative to the elephant- even though they weigh
only about 5 lbs.), numerous AWSOME lizards and some great birds. I
also went to Cape Point, which is the most southerly part of Africa. It
was there that I sat on the beach only to look up and see 8 huge
ostriches browsing on dune grass- very surreal. I was able to see
Elands and Springbok (2 different types of native antelope) and had
close encounters with the INSANE Baboons at the parking lot of the Cape
of Good Hope.
People have been feeding these guys for
so long that they now resort to intimidation tactics when you are
outside of your car and have food in your hand. The baboons will
actually charge up to you with teeth bared and grab your grub (that is
if you don't throw it at them first!) There is a whole crew of
employees walking around with sticks to keep them away from people…If
you all forgive the wildlife biologist soapbox: This is why I say to
NEVER feed wildlife- it just gets everyone hurt. Ok, nuff said. The
birding was outrageous and I couldn't believe all of the cool species
of cranes and birds of prey that I saw.
With all of the great people that I have
met and places that I have visited, and life changing experiences, it
sure is good to be back home with Matt and the critters and to
understand just how blessed that I have been to have been able to
experience such wonder.
Again, thank you all for everything that you have done. I held a piece of you all there with me.
There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to
find the ways in which you yourself have altered. ~Nelson Mandela