Hello and welcome to a little slice of life at the Traveling School – a taste of the air we’re breathing, the sights we’re seeing, and the moments we’re sharing. Come on the Orange River with us for four days. But first, let’s set the stage – the environment, the feelings, the group – before we pushed off the banks.
L to R: Lilla, Claire, Arden, Maddie, Hazel, Macy, Morgan, Ashelynn, Marley, Leslie, Savannah, Harper, Piper, Cora, and Meredith
The headwaters of the Orange River are in central South Africa in the Drakensberg Mountains. From there, its waters wind their way east, eventually becoming the border of Namibia and South Africa. Along the way, the river sees many things and carries many secrets. One of them is diamonds. After skirting away from the Drakensbergs, the Orange River passes through Kimberlites, a place where diamonds are thrust from beneath the Earth’s crust to the surface. The river picks up some of the diamonds and transports them as it slowly erodes its way to the Atlantic Ocean. Today, much of Namibia’s diamond mining is offshore, extracting these same diamonds.
The students of the Traveling School just passed our two-month-a-versary. They are happy, they are tired, they are full to the brim with new learnings, they are hungry for more. Last week, TTS looked different than this one. We were deep in midterms, writing essays, role playing stakeholders in the management of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, reading Nervous Conditions, and drinking loads of tea in our cozy hostel in Luderitz. Then, we had a whirlwind day of interdisciplinary action, connecting the scientific process of diamond formation with the historical influence of mining and monopolies, the economic impacts of the diamond industry, and the complicated existence of conflict diamonds. Leaving the backdrop of this heavily German town and the neighboring ghost town of Kolmanskop, it was only fitting we next stepped onto the banks of the Orange River, where many of those diamonds have also traveled.
The Orange River was a bit of a pause from classes as well as a mid semester reset and re-grounding. We pulled back a bit from academics and took a moment to focus on our community and to look within ourselves and our group.
We met our guides, Titus, Salaam, and Franz, and they introduced us to “river time,” i.e. the concept that we would wake up with the sun, have our day with no need for specific times, and go to sleep with the sun. We latched on, leaving our watches at the shore, a rare and special time for TTS students to leave the schedule behind.
This day, and trip, also marked our first round of student leader of the day, affectionately known as SLOD. Harper jumped in as our first volunteer, setting the tone for our time on the river. Our first day was special. It can be hard to get long periods of one-on-one time here, and we were gifted a lovely day of just that: paddling in pairs, swimming during breaks, and eating great food carefully made by our guides. Traveling School students were seen sprawled around camp, splashing in the water, huddling in the shade, taking naps, reading, relaxing, and staying cool.
Despite its name, the Orange River’s waters are on the green side. It weaves and braids through an epically harsh landscape. After just a few kilometers, jagged peaks surrounded us, absent of any vegetation beyond a few yards from the shore. The “Orange” must come from there, from the oxidized rocks setting the landscape into a constant glow, like a never-ending sunset.
We capped the afternoon with a Leadership & Life Skills class about vulnerability and trust, building our own self awareness, reflecting, and gaining insight into our collective experiences. We fell asleep to a bright moon, though some folks were able to catch a truly magical night’s sky in the wee hours of the morning after the moon had set.
Scents of the river:
– the most delicious sauce any of us have ever had on our chicken
– campfire smoke from cooking on the open fire
– Rooibos tea, Ceylon tea, Nespresso, hot chocolate
– fresh fish caught by Cora
– sunscreen, so much sunscreen
– crisp pages in books
The next day, Ashelynn stepped up to the SLOD plate. After a pleasant morning paddle and science field journaling, we braved a hot windstorm that tested our collective patience as we tried again and again to set up our shade tarp. Lilla rocked a fierce sun protection outfit after some sunburnt feet the day before. We snuck out of the wind and up to a vista, taking in the view of the sprawling river from above.
The evening finished with a circle. Each week, we connect as a community through a circle process. A question, maybe two is posed, and each community member is able to answer. We each follow these grounding norms: the opportunity to speak, the right to pass, and the privilege to listen. When someone is speaking, everyone else gives them their undivided attention. Questions and speaking out of turn is not allowed. It can be a very special space any week, but this week it was especially so because Ashelynn, our fearless SLOD, chose the questions and helped facilitate the evening.
Textures of the river:
- Smooth rocks polished by the water
- Rough, crumbly rocks above the water’s edge
- Soft, homey blades of our first true grass
- Sand, our familiar friend
- Glassy smooth water, ripples in the water showing us the path forward
- Slimy sunscreen hands slipping on the paddle
Day three was much of the same, but way more boring because there was no SLOD, just silly ol’ me as the designated leader of the day. We paddled, we laughed, we buckled down on our sun protection, we swam, and we role played the characters of our Lit book, Nervous Conditions, in one of the book’s final scenes, making predictions into the future. Marley and Harper flipped their canoe at the end of a rapid and their heads barely broke the surface before their giggles erupted from the water. We visited an abandoned diamond mine and looked at the old equipment.
Before dinner, we continued another tradition, spotlight, where we have the opportunity to hear from one group member in great detail as they tell us their abbreviated life story and we all ask questions. This time, Claire and Maddie both shared a slice of their lives with us. After dinner, our guides invited us to a “talent show.” While your children certainly contain multitudes of talents, I can’t say it was our best performance on the whole. Giggles everywhere. Perhaps you are picking up a theme from the river? Anywho, hardly anyone could get through their performance, let alone a whole sentence, without absolutely cracking up. Our first act – a Hamilton song and dance performed by Hazel, Macy, Meredith, Lilla & Marley – was by far the most cohesive. Although, I do also have to shout out Harper and Savannah for creating an original song, and also Piper, Ashelynn, and Cora for getting on stage and giggling it out for the audience.
Colors of the river:
- Emerald waters, shamrock leaves, mint rocks (Fluoride rocks)
- Russet, bronze, tan, copper, mocha mountains
- Boats of yellow, red, green and blue – the shades you’d see in a Kindergarten class
- Faded red PFDs
- Every single color of sky you can imagine
- Silver plates and bowls
- Rosy cheeks
- Midnight blue midnights with prickles of bright white stars and a half moon
Luckily, we bookended our trip with another SLOD, Savannah. She instigated a hilarious game of wink-murder. I don’t actually know what it’s called, and I assure you there was no murdering. Essentially, one person is secretly elected as the “murderer,” and if they wink at you, you must perform a dramatic (staged) death. The remaining folks then try to figure out who the murderer is. Savannah thoughtfully explained the game to our guides and brought them into the game. After arriving back at our campsite, we said goodbye to our guides, washed our things, and in true TTS fashion, squeezed in a couple more lessons for our very last night in Namibia.
Sounds of the river:
- Quiet conversation
- Goats bleating
- Popping and cracking of campfire wood
- Pages turning
- The whoosh of a paddle cutting the water
- Splashes and slaps
- Wind in the brush
Please enjoy these poems/haikus by Marley & Ashelynn about their time on the Orange River, and see the attached Zine, “Rolling on the (Orange) River” created by Hazel & Lilla.
The Orange River
Peaceful, serene, and all smiles
Good time with my friends
Orange River (shlatt)
Not actually orange (yuh)
Sore arms, sunburned toes (brap brap)
Riva Rat 4 lyfe
– Morgan Comey, Teacher and Logistics Coordinator
And a little extra…
When students returned, their Global Studies teachers asked them to write a postcard addressed to friends, family, or the world and tell them about a moment that brought them joy from the last week. Check out their written and artistic reflections!