South Africa Visit 2017 Live Blog

Day by day updates by Mr Hamill from South Africa!

Day 8


"Don't look back into the sun..."

(The Libertines, 2007)


As the African sun sets on our time on the continent, our thoughts turn to the special experiences that we have shared. South Africa has a rich cultural tapestry of sport; politics; music and dancing; our students have sampled just a taste of what this country has to offer and I very much hope that they are inspired to return in the future to continue the good work of the John Paul II Foundation for Sport. Through Bambisanani, they are all part of something bigger now,  something which is now part of them, something which will continue to go from strength to strength.

Our final evening together was spent strengthening the bonds forged over the past week and the previous ten years. The foundations for the 2018 visit are rock steady following inspiring leadership from Mrs C and Miss J. Thank you to our friends from Leeds Trinity for enhancing the trip, Chris and Diane have brought a spark of creativity and a gentle touch, respectively, to each day and built lovely relationships with our leaders and our staff; we look forward to hearing of the developments of their project in the coming years. Watch this space.

Our host, Graham, has been collecting interviews with our leaders across the course of our visit to supplement his next exciting project for the development of education in the Eshowe region. He found last night's accounts from Ewan and Laurence particularly moving; those types of contributions, and the resulting glowing feedback, have become the norm over this trip. The students have been constantly surprising us with their passion, inquisitive nature, support for each other, tolerance, acts of kindness, joie de vivre and an incredible level of emotional maturity. Graham's staff took great pleasure in having their photos taken with our team, particularly 'Justin Bieber' aka Laurence & Rosie, who has showered them with kindness during her stay. 

Yesterday's awards ceremony encapsulated their giving nature as they presented each member of staff with mementos from the trip - there was no need, they have thanked us every day with their outlook and their conduct; their leadership and their sporting values. We have been blessed with: 

⭐️ George's quiet, unassuming sporting prowess
⭐️ Tash's kindness and enthusiasm for EVERYTHING
⭐️ Katie's choreography and passion for teaching
⭐️ Rosie's beautiful singing voice and caring nature
⭐️ Laurence's Zulu clicking
⭐️ Tadgh's calm, indomitable spirit
⭐️ Megan's caring and nurturing character
⭐️ Ezra's growth as a wonderful teacher
⭐️ Ewan's writing gifts and selfless attitude
⭐️ Phoebe's enthusiasm for all things Logan
⭐️ Niamh's dry humour and competitive spirit
⭐️ Lorna's musical taste and superb rugby coaching brain
⭐️ Larissa's patience and emotional intelligence
⭐️ Pauline's energy and humility

As a team we share special memories - quite the highlight reel - ones that we'll revisit together in the future; as a sign-off, it has been an honour to be part of this trip and I know I speak on behalf of Miss Jackson when I say we couldn't have spent some of our final weeks as St. Mary's staff with a more impressive group of young people. Thank you guys - we will miss you. 


Thank you to Larissa and Tash for their final thoughts on the trip:

Our rendition of "Hero by Enrique Iglesias" summed up our feelings towards the bus driver Jordan, as he took us on our final leg of the trip. Jordan has been with us throughout the trip as our driver, friend, hero and most importantly part of the amazing family we have created whilst being in South Africa. 

Another important man in our lives is Logan, an absolute legend . He greeted us and, once again, filled us with knowledge about Durban as he gave us a luxury tour of the sea front, before he invited us in to his home for our Last Supper. A man we truly will never forget due to his positive energy and generosity for others. We arrived at his home where we were welcomed by his lovely family, who cooked a delicious meal for us all. This was a perfect way to end the visit, with the people who have made it worthwhile. 

We can not describe in depth the level of love and respect we have grown towards each other these past 8 days and we feel that distance will never interfere with the bonds formed between not only the Mnyakanya students but between the 19 of us. We've made memories of a lifetime, which the pictures have captured, but will never truly display the admiration felt internally within. In the words of "dirty dancing", which has been echoed throughout the bus, "I've had the time of my life" and couldn't have thought of a better group of people to spend it with. 

Bambisanani family 2017. 

Day 7

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Leaving Zulufadder, we've learnt to count ourselves lucky and live every moment in the present.

Our morning visit to the local Zulufadder Orphanage kicked off with a 'Teddy Bear' song & dance and a full welcome from the ecstatic children.

The next two hours were filled with storytelling in small groups; our leaders narrated the stories through their pre-prepared props in their story sacks - Roman helmets and swords, glitter, tiaras, animal masks and sea shells were the order of the morning.

Poppy, the lead teacher at Zulufadder, was moved to tears by the pumps that our leaders had brought with them as a donation to the orphanage; she passes on her heartfelt thanks to all members of our school community who made a donation.

The Headteacher from Mnyakanya, three of his staff and four student leaders visited too as we continue to build links across the Eshowe community. We had the pleasure of meeting Minenhle Shinga, an ex-'graduate' of Zulufadder, who told us his inspiring story, one that has ended with him studying for his BSc in Chemistry and aspirations to complete a PHD. He spends his holidays volunteering at Zulufadder and hopes that this generation will be even more successful in escaping from the challenges of poverty than he has been; an embodiment of Mandela's vision of the power of education. What an inspiration and symbol of hope for these young people.

The pictures from today will do the experience and the beautiful expressions on the faces of the children when they met our leaders far more justice than a few words from me. I keep using the word 'privilege' in this blog, but to observe the relationships our students built in a matter of minutes, across a language barrier, was something to behold.

Our Eshowe leaders, Kayelihle Biyla, Sam Ximba, Sibusiswe Thusi and Keelyrn Pillay then took us on a tour of their school - a stark contrast to our previous experiences of the South African education system; the library, in particular, was impressive and the celebration of sporting prowess reminded us of home. Miss Jackson was delighted to meet with Sindi, an Eshowe leader from our Bambisanani visit in 2016. We also said our goodbyes to our partners from Mnyakanya.

As we approach the final act of our trip, we look forward to our final time around the camp fire together and this evening's awards ceremony. Final thoughts from me to follow tomorrow...

Thank you to Rosie for her contribution to the blog:

Seeing children with wide eyes and beaming smiles is a lasting image in my mind from the Zulufadder orphanage. The happiness that seeing children with next to nothing can bring, is a feeling you can't describe and is a combination of having your heart warmed and broken all at the same time. We arrived at the orphanage with open arms and smiles on our faces and left with tears in our eyes. We were greeted by Poppy, one of the most inspirational, positive human beings I've ever been lucky enough to meet. We played games, blew up balloons, threw glitter EVERYWHERE and spent some of the best hours of our lives enjoying our time there. Leaving Zulufadder, we've learnt to count ourselves lucky and live every moment in the present. I've never felt so much love and happiness in the space of a couple of hours and cannot wait for an opportunity to go back. 

Day 6

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"Throw those curtains wide, one day like this a year will see me right."

(Elbow, 2008)

A day that starts with Take That, Oasis, Elbow and Kate Bush sing-alongs in the minibus is always going to be a positive, if emotional, day. 

As if gazing at celestial bodies yesterday evening wasn't enough, today we got to witness our own force of nature in the flesh: the Bambisanani sports festival. Our St. Mary's leaders took a backseat as our Mnyakanya students took charge of over 100 Ntolwane Primary School students. Our guests arrived to a warm welcome from our leaders and a football shirt kindly donated by our wider school community. A rounders, netball and touch rugby carousel, led in full by our new Mnyakanya leaders, was a resounding success; full of laughter and challenges.

The Ntolwane students were then welcomed into the Mnyakanya assembly hall for a reading festival - again, we are incredibly grateful for the suitcases full of books that we have been able to bring to Mnyakanya, and so, it was clear, were the Ntolwane students as they enjoyed guided reading, turn-taking and group reading. It was evident that the South African leaders took as much pleasure from this afternoon session as our St. Mary's team.

Mrs Chattoe concluded this afternoon's festivities with an awards ceremony, recognising the leadership and excellence within both Ntolwane and Mnyakanya schools. Niamh spoke beautifully, reading a poem on Teamwork, listed below. Tash and Laurence followed this with a traditional Zulu greeting and a series of thank yous on behalf of the Bambisanani team. Laurence, the young man of many talents, then got the guitar and treated us to an acoustic song so moving that a Mnyakanya student couldn't help but move onstage as a backing dancer. Last but not least, Rosie sang her own heartfelt, poignant solo 'Footsteps In The Sand' that brought many of the team to tears.

There are few moments in my adult life that have brought me to tears, but I seem to have found my eyes streaming continuously today; poetry readings; musical performances; dancing; sporting values modelled and then consolidated on a large scale; young children's faces when they realise they've been given the gift of two reading books; acts of kindness; generosity of spirit; an errant elbow on the netball court from our South African sisters - I've been an emotional wreck! Our young leaders seem to step it up a notch every single day and they put in so much sweat and tears into making today happen. They are fantastic ambassadors for what makes St. Mary's such a fantastic place. Our hosts were not to be outdone and entertained us with traditional Zulu choir singing and Zulu dancing; high-kicking and foot stomping - it was the most raucous and celebratory assembly that I have ever seen.

Whilst the students said their of gifts and goodbyes, Mrs Chattoe was back outside, tirelessly mapping out a netball pitch for a match against a local Ntolwane side. After our hosts had stuffed us full with a braai (South African barbecue), they hustled us onto the court. Fortunately, we could rely on the younger legs in the team to pull us through to an 8-6 victory. 

Time now back at the guest house to reflect on friendships forged and experiences shared. 

Ewan Copsey's excellent contribution to the blog (far superior to mine):

Our last day at Mnyakanya was one that I will never forget in my future years. The raw emotion on show from all parties involved truly encapsulated the entire reason we are out here.

The day started off with the sports festival the South African leaders had been working so hard towards. It was a shaky start as a horse on the field threatened to postpone proceedings, but luckily George was man enough to bolt from the scene at the first sign of movement.

With the problems only ever experienced in South Africa out of the way, play began and the South African leaders came into fruition and truly did themselves and the school proud. Credit to the Ntolwane students who were more than enthusiastic participants. On a day where temperatures soared in excess of 25 degrees, none of the St Mary's students or teachers could complain at a lack of work ethic or enthusiasm shown by Ntolwane.

After an active morning the leaders led a reading festival which ended in the generous donation of 100's of books to the primary school to help further their already impressive English.

The goodbyes came thick and fast but every hug was wanting to be held for a lifetime. The Assembly in the school hall allowed awards to be presented to South African students that have excelled in the past academic year. As the formalities subsided it gave way to the entertainment; Rosie and Laurence represented team UK in the most profound way possible, by the time they were done with the audience there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

However, they might just have been topped by the Mynakanya school choir, who exhibited the rich culture of the Zulu tribe. In a hall filled to the brim with students, not a single one held back, but instead sang their heart out. Then the main event came; a group of the elder students took to the stage and showcased the high octane, high energy traditional Zulu dances. Intricate moves that resulted in a crashing bang never failed to send the crowd into delirium.

Then came the waterworks.

Gifts were exchanged that are worth far more to each person than their materialistic worth. Each thread of my handcrafted bracelet is enhanced by memories and emotions that will last with me for a lifetime. 

I am struggling to find words to finalise the emotions I've felt today, so I think it's best summed up by a student called Lorna who wrote this in her letter to me, "As we say goodbye we remind ourselves that farewells are not forever, nor are they the end, they are simply words to say that we will miss you dearly and that we will remember you fondly."

The team player

The team player is never alone.
He or she leans or leads, when required. Every team relies on
The individuals to give of themselves. Driven. Selfless.

The team player is
the shoulder to cry on; 
the extra bag carrier; 
the extra one percenter.

Give encouragement to your team mates. 

Be positive to achieve your goals. Infectious enthusiasm. 

A will to succeed. Together.

Day 5

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'It's the Final Countdown'


The penultimate day of the Leadership Programme at Mnyakanya High School today - curriculum lessons & sports coaching 

Our student team faced lots challenges as part of the programme today; organisation and communication across a language barrier do not always come easily and our leaders are learning to approach problems constructively; with clarity and to think on their feet. They have put a great deal of time, patience and skill into preparations for tomorrow and I have every confidence that they have provided the framework for a successful festival for our friends at Ntolwane.

The focus of this morning on the sports field was to hone the delivery of our South African partners in preparation for the sports festival tomorrow. But before we took to the field, the team sang a rendition of Happy Birthday for Sinalo - Ezra and Megan presenting her with some thoughtful birthday gifts. The St. Mary's team have built up strong bonds with our hosts and the camaraderie within the smaller teams is evident throughout the drills and conditioned games; mutual support and encouragement have fostered excellent progress across the three sporting disciplines. 

The afternoon saw the final three curriculum lessons. Having seen the standard of yesterday's lessons, it would have been understandable for the six students to be nervous. If they were, they didn't show it; Miss Jackson and I were running between classrooms so we didn't miss a second. 

Niamh and Tash with some 'lobal learning':
The lobes of the brain, a card sort with their functions, shower caps to demonstrate the 3D nature of the brain and a 'Generation Game' memory task that would make Bruce Forsyth green with envy. The girls took charge from the start of the lesson, leaving the group in no doubt as to who was in charge. The students and staff really enjoyed learning about the brain and the imaginative activities that the girls had conceived. The Mnyakanya community may have looked quizzically at the students walking home in their shower caps complete with post-it labels.

Lorna and Phoebe: ambitious subject matter with a great deal of scientific terminology - the digestive system.
The girls used imaginative aprons with Velcro organs, card sorts and lots of questioning to address misconceptions and consolidate the learning. Phoebe and Lorna set themselves a challenging task but stepped up admirably and should be very proud of the outcomes. By the end of the lesson, the students could identify all of the areas of the digestion system and explain their functions - well done girls!

Ewan and Laurence: the boys faced the most mixed ability group of the two days and they coped calmly, making adaptations to their plan in their stride. Their delivery of a lesson on quadratic equations was engaging and the students clearly responded to the boys' gentle manner in the classroom. We had joked about 'chalk and talk' during the lesson prep, but the boys brought Mathematics to life and it was a pleasure to see students of all abilities challenged and supported.

This evening's Star Gazing TBC: expect a report from Ewan tomorrow on this evening's viewings of Saturn & Jupiter and a student account of today's lessons from Niamh.

Student quotes from the day...
"So far, I am love with Bambisanani and I'm in love with the area" - Ewan

"I felt our lesson went really well, whilst I felt comfortable in front of the group, how hard they worked made me feel very humble and I felt a rush of adrenaline when they were so keen to come to the front." - Phoebe

'What Am I?' Haikus from Tadhg and George's lesson yesterday:

I have a big trunk.
I give you the air to live.
I have big branches...

They are grey and big,
With long tusks; they have large feet
They eat bananas.


Account of the star gazing evening from Ewan and Niamh:

The evening brought an array of hidden gems not visible to the naked eye. Innovative technology allowed Logan to share his astrological passion with us. An unpredicted reschedule caused the much anticipated stargazing to be postponed until tonight. 

This played perfectly into our hands, as rare astronomical events were evident tonight; Jupiter and 4 of its moons, Saturn and it's distinctive rings were just some of the awe inspiring sights that helped to put everything in perspective.

Amongst the other spectacles were:
- The aptly named 'Jewel Box'
- Omega Centauri, a beautiful cluster of stars
- Alpha Centauri
- Centaur Galaxy, a cloud of newly forming stars

A serene end to a hectic day filled with precious experiences that will last a lifetime. 

Day 4


"Teaching is the hardest profession in the world" 

Fame The Musical

"Teaching is the hardest profession in the world - hard work, hard work." (Fame The Musical)

The Leadership Programme at Mnyakanya High School continues today - curriculum lessons and sports coaching

The role of Minibus Playlist Coordinator is a coveted one and a somewhat thankless task - one poor selection and the dream is over...Lorna did not disappoint today with an eclectic, high octane playlist on the way to Mnyakanya and the team's energy levels never dropped throughout the day. 

Today's Curriculum Lessons -
Ezra and Megan: The Wives of Henry VIII - some excellent role play and 'wife hats'. Hot seating questions and group work

Katie And Rosie: Music and Junk Band - percussion, creative group work & performance and a group rendition of 'I like the flowers', complete with actions

Tadhg and George: The Haiku - features of the genre; subject of a examples of Haikus and rhythmic patterns - examples of the students' work to follow in tomorrow's blog

Pauline and Larissa: The Wives of Henry VIII - imaginative 'Tudor Top Trumps' design, a summarising literacy task and lots of group work and perceptive questioning.

The Mnyakanya students were focused and engaged throughout, a passing member of staff commented that he could not believe how busy they were.

Our Bambi team were superb and I cannot praise highly enough the level of professionalism that they demonstrated as classroom practitioners. Mrs Chattoe, Miss Jackson and I were bursting with pride throughout all of the sessions: the teaching profession is in safe hands if these students decide to pursue a career in education.

The curriculum lessons were sandwiched by our sports sessions. The focus was consolidating our South African partners' knowledge of the sports for Wednesday's sports festival - dynamic warm ups, skills drills, conditioned games and developing communication skills. We are continually impressed by the progress made by our South African partners and, of course, by our own leaders who are honing the skill of teaching how to teach. 

The afternoon ended with a hotly contested game of football rounders - a begrudgingly accepted draw between Miss Jackson's side and my own. 

Many thanks to Niamh, who takes over the blog at this point, for her (unedited) contribution:

Thankfully, Miss Jackson is spending the evening swotting up on the rules, due to some questionable scoring during the matches. 

Many of the students commented on how lessons were so well received, both by the Mnyakanya leaders but also the other students as well. Accomplishment, enjoyment but also relief were emotions amongst the Bambi leaders. 

Unfortunately due to 2 burgers at lunch, Pauline had to step in as a runner for Mr Hamill during the footy rounders as the extra helpings proved too much; though the general thought is old age...

Tadhg:"I was not stressed"-regarding the lessons
"Feel like a proud parent on the first day of school"-refereeing

Phoebe:"it was a once in a lifetime experience"

Larissa: "the lesson was really emotional"

Katie: "they all started singing and Zulu clicking, so I just spontaneously started Zulu-dance-kicking"

Day 3


The Big Five meet St. Mary's...

Elephants - ✅ 
Buffalo - ✅ 
Leopard - ✅ 
Lions - ✅ 
Rhinos -  ✅

A 4am start this morning led to some 'quiet anticipation' on the minibus; no 🎼 I love the flowers, I love the daffodils 🎼 from Katie and Rosie today. 

The sun rose at 6.30am, as we approached Hlablisa, as it illuminated the surrounding landscape, yet another hush fell over the bus - this is Africa.

Logan, the font of anything worthy knowing, joined us as our safari guide for the Hhluhluwe (pronounced Shush-loo-ay) Game Reserve on the iMfolozi river. He promised us at least three of the 'Big Five', but more of that later.

Logan began by praising the simple dung beetle as an essential part of the ecosystem: they roll up dung and deliver this natural nutrient to soil where animals do not tread. Dung beetles roll up the dung, push it up to a distance of 200m and bury it; they then feed off the nutrients from the dung; the residue is washed away by the rain water and the dung becomes a natural fertiliser. Logan was at pains to state that it is the males that do the pushing, whilst the female sits on top of the dung...there's a metaphor in there somewhere...amazingly, the dung beetles use the Milky Way to navigate back to their dung burial points.

To reinforce his point about the interdependency of nature and the symbiotic nature of the ecosystem, Logan told us of the hyena, with the strongest jaws in the animal kingdom; it grinds down the bones of their prey; defecates; birds eat their waste and this is how birds with no teeth get their calcium. 

Onto the 'The Big Five Spotting';
Elephants - ✅ 
Buffalo - ✅ 
Leopard - ✅ 
Lions - ✅ 
Rhinos -  ✅ (towards the end of the safari we witnessed a battle royale of SIX rhinos)

Amongst our other sightings were zebra; nyalas; impalas; wildebeests; red back oxtickers; giraffes; warthogs; Egyptian geese; terrapins; water bucks; monkeys and the team's favourite bird, the cape blossom starling. 

Our early success was largely down to Logan's 'South African' eyes, although as our team's eyes adjusted, they too became responsible for some significant spottings.

The quotes from the students during the safari ranged from the sublime to the slightly ridiculous:
"That leopard was majestic" - Niamh
"That rhino is just cotching" - Laurence
"The giraffes were elegant and graceful" - Phoebe
Rosie found a kindred spirit in a posing mammal - "I like the arrogant impala"
"The big five? Completed it, mate" - Ewan

Larissa, exhausted from breaking South African hearts on day one and two, woke up startled to find an elephant almost at the window of our minibus. 

Our lunch break led us to the Hilltop, with a picturesque panoramic of the surrounding game reserve. The lamb curry, the cheesecake pudding and the milkshakes got rave reviews from the students. We also celebrated Jordan, our bus driver's birthday. However, I am a little worried about Jordan's eyesight after he compared my appearance to that of Wayne Rooney's...I'm working hard to rebuild the relationship.

Despite the fatigue after a long day, the students, as I type, are working extremely hard on the preparations for tomorrow morning's curriculum lessons and their sports leadership sessions, which take place tomorrow afternoon. They have worked so, so hard and have taken their ambassadorial role in their respective strides; as staff, we are so looking forward to seeing the fruits of their labour at Mnyakanya.

Day 2

 A leisurely morning for the group began at the Dlinza Forest Aerial Boardwalk - a rainforest walk with some beautiful views at the peak of the canopy.

Bus entertainment has been key: Katie led and won the 'Harry Potter Spell Off' and Mrs Chattoe got on the minibus decks early and has fully established 'The Killers Greatest Hits' as the soundtrack of the trip.

Next stop was Shakaland - a Zulu village - to understand Zulu culture. Mboso, our Zulu Prince, guided us around the village and gave us an overview of the day-to-day running of the village, including the witch doctor and his porcupine needles; tasting traditional Zulu beer with the Chief. Pauline was concerned to learn the traditional marital dowry for a Zulu woman was eleven cows. The students then had the opportunity to buy the homemade Zulu trinkets and keepsakes.

Mboso then took us to the Grandmother's hut, where the Chief holds his meetings and we were treated to a range of cultural dances; an intoxicating mix of colour, dance and drum beats...a traditional lunch overlooking the lake was a cultural end to the morning.

We enjoyed another afternoon with our friends from Leeds University as they approached the end of their trip. Andy gave us a tour of the Grattan school, where they have been providing opportunities for leadership. This was followed up with a hard-fought, competitive game of 'football rounders' – our team was ably led (to victory!) by Ewan, George, Laurence and secret weapon Ezra. 

An early night tonight in preparation for tomorrow's safari.

Day 1

The team arrived in Eshowe on Thursday evening in surprisingly good spirits following 24 hours in transit: passports and body clocks in tact.

Friday morning saw the first stages of our leadership programme take place. We were joined by four members of Eshowe High School - leaders who will accompany us throughout the programme. 

Our first visit was to Ntolwane Primary School: we were met by Moses and two prefects. Our guide Tandela Prince, a school prefect was confident, proud and grounded. She gave us a tour around the classrooms and it was heartening to see students so proud of their school and so committed to their education. 

The St. Mary's students had the opportunity to share their names with the classes: 'Laurence' was a consistently collective source of laughter. It was so heartening to see our students engage with the Ntolwane classes and begin to recognise that despite how little they have, they are incredibly happy and upbeat. The group also had the opportunity of a photo with South African 'royalty' as two of Jacob Zuma's granddaughters attend Ntolwane - the girls are both referred to affectionately as 'princess', but treated with reverence. The visit ended with an assembly - a Zulu dance and traditional song - music and dance are key to every welcome and celebration here and even the teachers got involved, showing off their moves. Our group will need a lot of morning stretches before we even attempt one of their high kicks - my hamstring is twingeing now, just thinking about it.

We waved goodbye to our friends at Ntolwane, until Wednesday, when we return to deliver a sports day.

Mnyakanya High School
On arrival we were met by 'PK', a long standing friend of the partnership and the group had an audience with the new head, simply known as 'Ronnie'. The welcome committee president prepared two performances by the choir - the South African national anthem and the school song and three students read their own poems: 'My Country', 'Youth' and 'My Comfort Zone'.

Our staff team then led a series of leadership activities - working together with the Mnyakanya students to consider aspects of a good leader and developing their communication skills.

The groups split into the three areas of the sports day for the afternoon: netball, tag rugby and rounders. The progress was quick, as some of the sports were new to our South African friends.

In the evening our partners from Leeds University joined us at our guest house to enjoy an impromptu talk on astrology from Logan Govender, our esteemed friend. It is difficult to put into words how impressive and fascinating the talk was - Logan is an incredibly knowledgeable and an effortless orator and we look forward to star-gazing with him on Tuesday.

After-dinner was spent around an open fire, playing games and winding down after an exhausting first taste of South Africa.