Step 1: My South Africa Journal Next

A few years ago, I joined a 55-member children's literature delegation for a two-week sojourn to South Africa. Below are two entries from the journal I kept during the trip — quick notes describing my experiences. I encourage you to read my excerpts, and use them as a model when you start thinking about writing your own descriptive writing.

Wednesday, November 6
On the road to Soweto — South Western Township

We barter and buy masks and cloths. Wonderful carvings. I'm quick to learn a signal — a thumbs up, meaning "I need a ride to Jo'burg! (Johannesburg)" and has come to also mean freedom, "Arriba, South Africa!" "Onward and upward, South Africa!" I use the sign to people, point to my camera and they absolutely love posing! People call out — "USA! Michael Jordan!" Africans are free people. They go where they want. They can work where they can find jobs.

We ride our buses through the vast and endless (80 km) Soweto community. We see stores, strip malls, beer establishments. We eat at a legal Sheibeen, an eating establishment where African and white African businesspeople eat. I will not forget this soon . . . great houses, shanties, side by side. It didn't matter at the time of apartheid. Rich or poor, if you were black, you lived here, sometimes, no roads. Other times, paved roads. But now, people are free. We see women building houses! The men are off to other work. But it is so amazing to see women doing all the building. We give the thumbs up. We watch the trains bringing men home from the mines. We see the former home of Nelson Mandela, now, Winnie Mandela's home. We walk around, followed by a group of children. The large house is surrounded by a high wall. One of the striking sites of South Africa is the walls that enclose every decent home. Who is being kept out — or in?

November 8
Kruger National Park

Largest wild-game preserve in South Africa and the eighth largest in the world. Couldn't be a better day. Colors are greens and browns, bush and grasses — they fade to gray without sunlight. It is a gray day with misty rain. The animals love it! Mist keeps them cool, especially the elephants, whose ears never stop moving as they fan themselves — keeping down their body temperature. It is near 90 degrees here.

Lo and behold, the elephants! Very close to us. We keep quiet, snapping pictures. See the mother seemingly moving in slo-mo, her babies at her side. I love it! They are so huge! We are above them — they are below along a gorgelike area toward water. One grand male trumpets and sweeps his trunk toward us, letting us know that HE knows we're there — don't come any closer! Monkeys, at the side of the roadway — jumping on cars! Many kinds of birds. Wildebeests with their constant companions, the zebras. No zoo has zebras with the vivid striping of those on the open range. We snap pictures of warthogs, baboons, wow! I get a book idea!