June 26, 2019
Goodbyes are always the hardest after an incredible experience.
We grew so close in the last 16 days that we are sad to be apart. Through the South African bush, along the beaches of Mozambique, and at the children’s home where we served, we shared this once in a lifetime experience. We made memories that will last a lifetime and friendships just as strong. I have no doubt that our group will stay in contact. I have no doubt that we have all been impacted by these places. I have no doubt that I will miss every student who joined us on this journey.
It’ll be strange to wake up tomorrow and not hear Gunnar and Jackson making jokes or imitating the many animal sounds that wake us in the night. Or maybe they would have the whole group laughing at some new dance move they just made up, I really don’t know what antics they would be up to, but I know I’ll miss them. They are two friends who don’t see each other for 11 months out of the year and then come here and act as though they’ve grown up together. It’s so fun to watch and I am grateful to have met them.
I’ll wake up missing the many smiles and laughs shared when chatting with the Ava’s (Lava as we call Ava L. and Guava as Ava G. has been dubbed so we don’t confuse them). Ava G. brightens every moment, whether we are at a meal or driving into the bush. Her laugh comes easily and spreads quickly through the group. I’m going to miss the joy she brought to everything we did. With Lava, I had some of the most engaging conversations; she is very wise and practical in her view on life. Always one to share her perspective on a serious matter, yet just as easily someone who enjoys the nonsense gibberish we all speak after a long day when our bodies and minds are tired but we stay awake just a little longer to spend those few extra moments together as a group. I’m going to miss those conversations.
Tomorrow I’ll wonder what’s missing and realize Emma isn’t here to offer help to anyone in need. I’ll wonder whether or not she is still on the plane employing her maternal instincts as she checks in with the rest of our group members. She is lovingly called “mom” by James and Clay with good reason. These three are a tight-knit group but are never exclusive. James and Clay share a good taste in music and often offer recommendations that the whole bus enjoys. The rest of the group said that these two were the most intimidating upon first meeting them the first day and that these two were quickly discovered to be some of the easiest to talk to in the group. These guys are caring and intelligent and brought a ton of energy to every activity. If they don’t join Moondance next summer, then I hope they can both return as leaders. Their students would be so lucky to follow them.
Eliza and Kate, too, will make incredible leaders. They have expressed some interest and I know they will do an incredible job. Eliza is goofy and spontaneous, yet so aware of herself and how infectious her energy can be. At any moment she may be dancing to her own singing or the next making a hilarious vlog on her GoPro; in either situation, the group gravitates towards her positivity. Kate impressed me most with how intuitive she was throughout the trip. Nothing was over her head and there was never a dull moment when she was near. She started group games more often than any student and everyone followed naturally, without question. All of these characteristics being crucial ingredients when we search for rising leaders.
I’ll miss Sadie and Sam B.’s intelligent additions to every conversation. These two young people are incredibly responsible and well-mannered and shared their knowledge and intellect with us throughout the last couple weeks. Sadie is truly a rock star. She is never one to complain, no matter the circumstance, and I was blown away by how well she manages her daily routine. She and Sam B. both exhibited how easily they can manage additional responsibility and I never felt the need to remind either of them of how to act. Sam B. is well-read and knows how to effectively articulate the point he is making, whether he is discussing literature or his view on something happening in our world. I will miss being reminded that people his age already care so much about things greater than the happenings in their immediate surroundings.
I’ll miss discussing Chloe and Marlin’s aspirations, though these two girls are quite different, they both spoke of dreams and the goal-oriented approaches they’re taking to achieve them. Chloe’s creativity and eye for detail will take her far in any industry she chooses. Both girls are cool, calm, and collected, yet so different; I wouldn’t be surprised to find either of them in a leadership role wherever they work. Marlin was especially chill – nothing phased her and I’m sure it has something, if not everything, to do with her unmatched athleticism. She is dedicated and driven and regardless of being on the field or in her career, she will be successful. I hope to see her name splashed across an ESPN highlight one day. She makes a great addition to every team, and our group wouldn’t have been the same without her.
Kelly and I are so grateful that we could spend time with these young people. They have taught us so much and we are excited to see what they do in their lifetimes.
The Moondance family is lucky to have them.
Sam and Kelly
June 24, 2019
Thursday evening we landed in Mozambique. Upon arriving at our lodge we were excited to swim in the Indian Ocean for the first time. The saltwater felt refreshing against our skin. The beach was absolutely beautiful. The white sand extended in each direction as far as we could see. You would never know it is winter in Mozambique. Our days have been filled with gorgeous, warm weather, which made our first day here perfect for surf lessons. On the beach our guides taught us the basics of surfing and then we were off to shred some gnarly waves. It was unbelievable how quickly the kids picked up surfing. Every time someone new stood up on the board the whole team cheered.
That afternoon we were able to relax on the beach and swim. Our group has grown so close. Even when we have downtime, the group chooses to stay together and play group games or swim in the ocean. Whether relaxing on the beach or while jumping into the waves, Chloe always has a big smile in her face. It’s quite infectious. Our conversations come easily and we’re constantly laughing at inside jokes. Gunnar and Marlin led our first Moonup on the beach under the clear sky filled with bright stars. Since there is no light pollution here we can see the Milky Way. Gunnar’s perspective on things always impresses Sam and me. He asked us what we would be doing if we were back in the United States during this time. None of our answers compared to anything we achieved that day. Marlin, although quiet during the first part trip, has broken out of her shell. She leads our group with confidence and poise. She has become a favorite among everyone in the group. Like Marlin, Ava G. has also broken out of her shell. She is the first to offer a helping hand and has a contagious smile. It is impossible for our group not have a good time around her. Ava G. is the type of person that does have to try to be funny, it just comes naturally for her and our group is grateful for the constant laugher.
Our second morning everybody woke with excitement for our first ocean safari. We geared up in our wetsuits and were off in search of aquatic life. After our boat cruise we were able to go on our local community tour and cooking lesson. One of our ocean safari guides, Tony, took us to his village to meet his family. Everyone was amazed at Tony’s ability to scale a palm tree with such ease to knock down coconuts for each of us. We drank the sweet fresh water straight from each coconut. Tony’s mother and sisters then taught us how to make a local dish called matapa. Matapa is made from locally grown leaves that are ground up and mixed with coconut milk. It is heated over a fire and served over white rice. They also taught us how to make coconut bread, which looks and tastes like a sweet, soft pretzel. With our bellies full we headed back to lodge to relax on the beach. That evening we went to the local market to get gifts for our families and treat ourselves to some delicious ice cream. We walked back on the beach and watched the breathtaking sunset. James and Eliza were our LODs today and led a heartfelt Moonup. Many laughs later the group
The next day we woke up early to get ready for our second ocean safari. Today we were determined to see aquatic life and we were not disappointed. We were able swim with dolphins!! These majestic creatures would dip down entering into deeper water then come back up to weave between us. A dolphin swam so close to Clay he could have touched its sleek gray body. Kate, with an eye for videography, was able to capture amazing clips of the dolphins swimming with us. Kate continues to show her loving and caring nature throughout our trip. She offered to take underwater pictures for everyone on the boat, but never asked anyone to take a picture of her. Kate is always aware of the group’s needs and brings the perfect amount energy and excitement to each activity. Following the ocean safari we had another surf lesson. Jackson, Ava L., and Emma crushed the surfing lesson. Emma radiates positive energy. She cheered and encouraged everyone to catch a wave. After an action packed day, we demolished our last dinner in Mozambique. In the evenings it has become a tradition to play the card game “spit.” You can always find Sam W. taking the time to teach each student how to play. The kids now refer to him as “Dad”, which suites his selfless personality perfectly. After many games of “spit” it is time to conclude the day with Moonup. Our LODs, Sadie and Sam B., continue to push the group to have deeper and more reflective conversations during Moonup. They asked the group to share the best advice they’ve ever received. After Moonup we felt wiser and closer than ever.
The best part of our time in Mozambique was when Ava L. and I were swimming in the ocean together. She told that she has had a trip of a lifetime. As leaders, this is most touching thing to hear and we’re so grateful for the opportunity to be apart of such a loving and caring group filled with inspiring young adults. We are now off to our last safari!
Happy birthday Sam Whitehurst’s mom! We love you!
Kelly and Sam
June 18, 2019
We rise with the sun now. We eat and then we drive into the bush. We are in awe of the things we see. We are surrounded by this beautiful landscape and amazed by the animals that call this place home. With each new day we drive deeper into the bush. With each drive we discover new things about this area through our observations and discover new things about each other through our conversations.
On the day we arrived at camp, our LODs, Gunnar and Marlin, helped the group get situated. Both have a natural leadership style that is casual but collected. The group follows them easily as they direct our day’s activities. That day began with saying goodbye to our community service partners and ended with our first of many game drives, or safaris. Our group agrees that this national park resembles what we all expected to see when we imagined Africa before we arrived.
Our Moonup that night is interrupted by a giraffe dipping his long powerful neck to drink from the watering hole set just yards from our fire pit. The group is rightfully startled but becomes even more excited for our safari adventures to come. We are off to bed early in anticipation for the next day’s activities.
The sun rises faster here – in mere minutes the moonlit landscape is completely bathed in the sun’s morning glow. We sip coffee or cocoa and warm our hands before departing for the morning safari drive. On drive it is time to learn. Our guides are experts in tracking; they point out every subtle clue that our untrained eyes miss. They read the land as easily as we read text, allowing the ground and bush to narrate the story of which animals have recently passed through the area.
The first morning we rise to witness not one but two rhino darting ventures. To begin, our group follows a helicopter carrying the general manager of the national park where we are camping. This man is also a vet who devoted his life to the conservation of the native animal populations in South Africa. Today he focuses on the endangered white rhino, but on other days he looks after elephants, giraffe, or even lions if they are in need.
Shortly after we set out, the helicopter pilot signals that they have located an undocumented bull rhino. From the air, the vet uses an air-powered rifle to shoot a sedative into the rhino’s thick hide. Still active for a few minutes, the rhino is then herded into an open area using the airborne helicopter to block him from returning to the denser brush.
We watch the helicopter dance from a distance, circling the rhino before it touches down and radios to say it is safe to approach. When we arrive on the scene volunteers working with the vet are already taking measurements and documenting the rhino’s vitals. One of our guides mentions that this is the largest rhino she has ever seen. He is a great beast even in this tranquil state.
The vet and his crew work fast but take time to explain why they are performing each test and taking each sample. In brief, the poaching of these creatures for their horn has reached a critical level and this game reserve is building a DNA database that records as many rhinos from its population as possible. If a horn is seized from the black market it can now be traced back to its origin here. It’s a sad reality, but the work here is an important step towards ending rhino poaching in South Africa.
Our discussions that afternoon revolved around how we can take what we have learned here and have an impact after our trip ends. Emma and Eliza want to raise funds to send back to the park. We all agree that this cause is worth any effort we make as we have now shared space with these beings and couldn’t imagine a world in which they no longer exist.
We return to camp and take time to reflect. With each day there are so many new experiences that our minds’ need time to digest. Sam B. finds his solitude in one of the many hammocks strung up throughout camp. He reads or journals in a moment of peace, broken every now and again by the wild sounds coming from outside the protective fence. Whether Kate carries the LOD title or not, she is a leader during this downtime. Always aware of the group’s needs, she knows when to suggest that we play a new game or spice up our conversation. By my count she has taught our crew at least three new games which are most often requested throughout the trip.
The morning of our sleep out carries anticipation and does not disappoint. Bundled up from the South African winter morning we set out in search of elephants. Following the river system, we begin to pick up traces of elephant activity – a massive footprint here and a broken tree branch there – signal that we are on the right path. After an hour or so our efforts are rewarded: we spot 30 or more elephants grazing along the opposite riverbank.
Seemingly unbothered by our presence the group of elephants grows larger as more family units join the social gathering. Our guides explain the matriarchal social structure of the elephants and the deep family ties that each elephant feels as it is raised, which it carries into adulthood. Family units group together like this to share news of new grazing lands or watering holes before parting ways again. We learn that the elephant is incredibly intelligent and though large, tends to be a gentler creature.
We are buzzing with excitement when we return to camp as Jackson’s magnetic humor kept us laughing all morning. His quick wit and timing are impeccable, and we appreciate that he can entertain our group for hours. Though he entered the trip knowing Gunnar, he quickly became close with everyone else. Clay and James too, make a dynamic duo that add so much joy to this experience. Again, though they travelled together, they are never exclusive. Both of these young men are the first to include another in their conversation and make every effort to bring the group together for games and at mealtimes.
On this second to last night we set out towards the mountains to sleep in the bush. This is a privilege many native South Africans aren’t fortunate enough to experience in their lifetime, yet here we are. A group of young people and two leaders, all from America, all coming to this place for the first time less than a week prior.
Our first activity after setting up our cots and digging a fire pit is to take an hour to sit still and in silence and reflect on our adventure. The guides situate us away from one another just far enough, so we feel secluded and instruct us to face outward, staring into the bush and beyond. Upon returning to our camp, those that are comfortable share what they thought about. Many mention the stresses of big decisions to come, whether that be picking between this college or that or recent shifts within their families. We are grateful to have a space to share these things and relieve ourselves, if only for a couple weeks, of the pressure of our lives back home. These pressures become small and distant here where life is simple. Ava L. opens up to the group and brings us all closer. She is strong and confident and shows she is mature beyond her years. Kelly and I are very impressed.
Our Moonup digs a little deeper into these pressures as we discuss important decisions in our lives. Our guides join us, and we get a fresh perspective. Sadie is a star. She is intuitive and gentle and shares so much of herself and her experiences in our Moonups. Her answers help to create the space for other students who are not as confident to be vulnerable and open up to the group. As leaders we need fearless students like Sadie and Ava L. to pave the way, we are so happy they are here with us. Ava G. is then chosen as one of our LODs for the next day because she is kind and the first to offer our guides a hand in whatever they are doing along with being a great companion to those riding in her safari vehicle. Our guides had earlier pulled Kelly and me aside to say that she has been very helpful thus far, so it was only fitting that her peers recognized her in this way too.
We conclude Moonup and then it is time for our watch shifts to begin. In pairs we use a spotlight to search the distant tree line, looking for illuminated eyes and listening for creatures in the bush. No animals are spotted, but they are heard through the night making various calls under the full moon.
Chloe shares the sunrise with Kelly as she took the final watch shift, and Chloe stayed up to keep her company. Chloe may never be the loudest, but we find her fewer words carrying more weight. She is thoughtful and deliberate in her answers and exhibits a mature grasp on her life whenever she offers her unique perspective. Chloe helps to hurry the group along on this chilly morning as we clamor to get back to the warmth of the lodge at the game camp.
Our final afternoon at camp is nothing short of one of the most exciting moments thus far; a massive bull elephant chose to venture over to the watering hole in front of our camp. This same watering hole that a giraffe visited a few days before, which is just yards away from where we are sitting and enjoying each other’s company. It is difficult not to move quickly as we are all excited, but we stay calm as instructed. Truly, the elephant doesn’t seem bothered by our presence. Rather, he goes about his task of filling his trunk and emptying it into his mouth paying us little more attention than to glance in our direction every now and again. This interaction lasts about ten minutes, but it feels like time slowed as each of us soaked in the moment.
Our final night game drive brings yet another surprise: a mother cheetah is spotted nursing two cubs out in the open. We race to follow the directions of the spotters, our anticipation building until we finally locate the correct spot. There, alongside the road is a most natural and beautiful thing. Two rambunctious cubs play and feed as mom watches our group. She is alert, but we pose no threat. We linger until the little family moves along.
Timed perfectly, the sun then began to set on this final evening in the park. Sadly, in South Africa the sun sets as quickly as it rises, concluding another section of this journey.
Our group is closer than many by this time. Our guides notice and so do we. The conversations come easily, and everyone is included. We are grateful to be joined here in this beautiful and inspiring place by such inquisitive and intelligent young people. Our next stop is Mozambique. We cannot wait to see what this next section brings!
So long for now,
Sam and Kelly
June 15, 2019
We arrived in South Africa Wednesday evening. In the Johannesburg Airport we were greeted with a warm welcome by our incredible guides. They got the group pumped for our upcoming community service project. That night we feasted on pizza and headed to bed for some well deserved rest.
Thursday morning, we woke with excitement to start the service project. As we walked to breakfast our group was in awe looking at the beautiful orange and red South African sunrise. Our first LODs, leaders of the day, were Emma and James. You could tell that Emma and James are natural leaders by their ability to engage the group by sharing what service meant to them and why we do service on Moondance.
On the drive that morning we had our first wildlife encounter with a giraffe! Our local driver, Daniel, acted as though we saw a deer, while the rest of the group was wide eyed and couldn’t believe how casual it was to see a giraffe on the side of the road. Shortly after our giraffe encounter we arrived at the children’s home. Here, the organization Moondance partners with provides facilities for orphans and vulnerable youth in the local community. At the gate we were greeted by the head caregiver, Tessa, who gave us a tour of the facility.
We then headed to a local primary school to meet students, many of whom live in the children’s home. Jackson quickly became a favorite among the boy students with his incredible soccer skills. Ava L., also known as Lava, and Sadie were adored by the girl students with their gifts of patience and kindness. They led group games that were a blast and even started a conga line dance party. Kate amazed us with her ability to connect with the students so quickly. Every time we looked at her she was helping students dance, jump rope, or she was simply giving them a hug. Gunnar, Clay, and James taught the kids how to play basketball. Clay held kids on his shoulders in order for them to be tall enough to make a basket. One of our favorite moments of the day was walking around to the back of school to find Eliza in a circle with a group of students laughing. They looked at her as though she was their older sister and they listened intently to every word she said. After many hugs and goodbyes with students we headed back to the children’s home.
A highlight of the afternoon was our group conversation about cultural sensitivity lead by the head educator named Xoni. This conversation put into perspective the things that we take for granted on a daily basis. To close our first day of community service we made friendship bracelets with all the children. Chloe shined in this activity with her ability to have meaningful conversations with the kids, no matter how young. Every kid wanted a bracelet made by Chloe. Once we arrived back at our lodge our group got a taste of our first South African sunset, or as Gunnar refers to it as “S-set”. We sat speechless as we looked at one of the most beautiful views we have ever seen. The sunset consisted of endless of red, orange and yellow layers of sky as far as we could see.
Friday morning we were surprisingly woken up by the sounds of monkeys instead of bird calls. Jackson and Chloe were our second pair of LODs. Jackson discussed how impactful the previous day was for him and inspired everyone to give it their all today. When we arrived at the children’s home immediately started playing a pickup soccer game with the students. After a solid game of soccer the group was ready to get to work and started making a Braai cooking fire pit for the facility. The girls helped cut various types of vegetables that were placed in freezer to last the facility throughout the winter. During lunch we were treated to a musical performance by the children at the center. We were amazed by their musical talent and their ability to make everyone instantly start dancing.
Friday afternoon we were invited to go to the owner of lodges’ farm to meet her baby goats. Ava G., also known as Guava, is a baby goat whisper. The baby goats loved her affection and were practically sleeping in her arms. We helped give each goat medicine, which was quite a show. Marlins’ country girl side came out as she had a knack for catching the wiley goats. She held and comforted them while Sam B. gave them medicine. Sam had a gift for making the goats feel comfortable and safe. I would not be surprised if he grew up to be a veterinarian.
After petting the last of the baby goats, we set out for the lodge and had a pool party! Later that evening we drank hot coco and watched another amazing “S-set” on the porch. For dinner we had a traditional South African meal, more like feast, called Braai (similar to a barbecue back home).
Yesterday was truly a special day for our group. We started to act like a family. We had a long Moonup because we didn’t want to leave each others’ side and end our conversations. Last night we went to bed with our bellies and, most importantly, hearts full.
Today was the final day of our service project. We continued to help build the braai fire pit and organize cloths that were donated to the center. We’re now headed off to Marakele National Park for the safari section of our trip! Happy Father’s Day to all our amazing dads! We love you!
Kelly and Sam
Chloe- Hey mom and dad! I’m having a great time. Happy Father’s Day Dad! Love you guys!
Sam B. – Thanks so much for this amazing trip! Africa is so phenomenal, and we just finished doing service with all the kids at the school. I’m so excited for the safari/ Mozambique and I can’t wait to tell y’all about it. Happy Father’s Day Dad! I love y’all!
Clay- Thanks so much for letting me come on this Moondance. It has been awesome. Headed to the safari right now. Happy Father’s Day Dad! Thanks again. Happy birthday, Jack!
Jackson- Thanks Mom and Dad, this trip has been amazing. I’ve been playing soccer with the kids 24/7 (their really good). Tell Dan, Hannah and Claire I wish I could chill with them. Love you guys. Happy Father’s Day Dad! C ya!
James- Having a blast. Happy Father’s Day, Bob! Thanks, Jamal
Marlin- Hey fam, I’m having an amazing time here in Africa. Happy Father’s Day DAN THE MAN. Don’t miss me too much! Love y’all!
Kate – Here’s the deal… Africa is really cool! I’ve made 12 new pals and met so many awesome kids during our service work. Dad, you rock my world and Happy Father’s Day. You’re the man. Love and miss you mom, dad, and Nelson.
Gunnar – hey mom and dad, hope you guys are well. Africa is great, as expected. Sweet tan line on my wrist. Happy Father’s Day!
Sadie – Hey family! Really wishing Moondance was longer because I love Africa so much I could stay forever. Dad, sorry but I think I’ll be the stinkiest one in the family by the time I get home (jk). Happy Father’s Day! Love my pals, I love Africa, but miss y’all too! See y’all soon! Love y’all!
Ava G. – Hi fam, I am having so much fun in Africa and have made so many friends. I hope you guys are having fun in ATL and that Liv is having fun in Cali. Happy Father’s Day, Dan, I hope your foot is feeling better. I miss you all. xoxo
Ava L. – Hey fam! Hope you guys are having so much fun in Ireland! I miss you guys but I’m having so much fun here! We are about to start the safari and I’m so excited! Thanks so much for letting me come. Happy Father’s Day, Matty Ice! Hope it’s a good one. Tell everybody hi! Love you guys!
Eliza – HELLLOO! Africa is so so so much fun!! Best Moondance yet. Thanks so much for sending me. Happy Father’s Day Semmes, you da man. Love y’all and see you soon!
Emma – Hey guys! South Africa is absolutely amazing. We are headed to our safari section of the trip. The food and all the people have been amazing. A HUGE happy Father’s Day to Dr. D. You are the best! I am so grateful for you. Thank you for this amazing experience. I love you all and cannot wait to tell you about it! Lots of hugs!
Kelly- Happy Father’s Day, Dad! I hope you have a wonderful day and know that I will be thinking about you. I love you so much! Enjoy your first trip in the RV to Maine. Also, Happy Father’s Day, Larry. I can’t wait to tell you and mom all the stories from this summer in August. Miss you guys! Xoxo
Sam W. – Happy Father’s Day, Boseph. Sorry I’m missing it – we’ll have to celebrate again when I get back. Hope all is well on the homefront. Ma, if I don’t get a chance to chat with ya on your bday then I want to say I love you and I hope it’s a good one!Love and miss y’all both. Talk soon.
June 12, 2019
Hi South Africa Families,
All students have arrived in South Africa and the trip is on its way.
We are excited to see what this adventure has in store!