Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Four Days of Classroom Library Christmas

I bought a bunch of books recently at a Scholastic Book warehouse sale and more with my Scholastic bonus points.   I'm going to let the kids open one present a day this week and see what books we're adding to the classroom library.  They're going to flip out to see more Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and the complete series of Geronimo Stilton.  I probably shouldn't have splurged on books, but hey, these are my kids and I want them to read lots.  I dream of a classroom library that covers my entire room, with books everywhere.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Tis the Season

I know I posted like this exact same post a year ago, but I can't help it.  I'm just so happy.   I bought three new Christmas albums (Glee, Eclipse, and Buble).  I put those on, as well as Christmas Aroma, as I decorated the house for Christmas.  This is so what I needed today.   I love Christmas so sO SO MUCH!!  I love it so much I could marry it! :)

My roommate was laughing as I kept pulling out more coordinating ornaments for my blue and silver tree, especially the blue striped candy canes. What can I say, Christmas is my thang. :)  A special shout out to Jordan, who last year got me out of my Christmas funk and helped me get this tree.  Thanks, Jordan!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Well On Our Way

October in Room 25

I asked my librarians to "organize the library."  I was thinking put all the Animorphs together, put the picture books on the same shelf, etc.   A few days later I'm looking at the chapter books and I noticed that they had indeed organized the library.  Can you see how?  (Hint:  I call it chromatic organization).

My mom sent me this great idea for a Halloween gift, fangs from Target with the saying "Have a 'fang-tastic' Halloween! - Mr. Allsop."  The kids loved them.  In fact, lots of kids were wearing fangs today, two days later, now that I think about it.  

Things have been going well.  The substitute I had a few weeks ago said my class of fourth graders was the best behaved class she had subbed for in the last ten years. She told me to give them all 1,000 college points (College points are table points they earn for great answers or being on task).  I read her note to the kids, then told them "If the substitute says so, I have to do it," and added 1,000 college points to each table.  The kids went ballistic.  We proceeded to eat lunch in the classroom that day as a reward for their awesomeness.

The workload of a teacher is incredible in its scope and breadth, especially this year with new standards adopted by many states.  Based on pure workload and stress level, I would take any week from my mission or college, transfers and finals week included, over any week so far this school year.  We are asked to do so much, and then teachers who are really trying to do what's best for kids have to go above and beyond.  Still, I wouldn't trade it--I can't think of a more rewarding work.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Update from Room 25

1.  You can now check out my classroom projects at  

2.   I noticed Ray wasn't doing the actions with us during vocabulary and seemed preoccupied with something in his desk. Finally I stopped and asked him to put his hands on his desk, which he did not.   Note: Very few students don't do what I ask, because (a) I ask nicely and (b) they don't want to see Angry Mr. Allsop.  So I walked over there a bit peeved--turns out he had unscrewed the leg of his desk, and the only thing keeping it from tumbling to the ground was his hand.   Children!

3.   We are progressing super nicely towards our goal of knowing all multiplication facts by Christmas.  I show the kids our progress on our tracker below, and they are super invested in it.   The test is 100 multiplication facts, 0-12, to be completed in 5 minutes (i.e. 7x8=, 1x12=).  On the first day of school our class average was 46 out of 100.  Just two weeks later, it was 59.  Yay!

P.S.  I LOVE when people comment.  I enjoy getting feedback, hearing your responses to my posts, and just seeing who's reading.  I recently changed some settings, so hopefully now it is ridiculously easy to comment on my blog.  Please do comment!  Even just to say, "I read it" or ":)".   Thank you!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Funny Fourth Grade Moments

Names have been changed to protect the innocent (and embarrassed).

The Fart

So it's silent reading last week and the whole class is working on reading stamina--sustained, independent reading. It's quiet, everyone's into their book, when one of my dear students lets rip the loudest, most obvious flatulence. There are snickers all around, but I can't crack--I'm the teacher. So I raise my book up to cover my smirk and choke on my laugh. When we gathertogether again, Al asks, "Mr. Allsop, do you know who farted?", and I say, "It doesn't matter. Let's talk about what we do during reading time if there is a distraction..."

Tied to the Test

This morning we took a written response reading test. Several students finished early and had time to sit quietly at their desks and read. Apparently, Nelly had been playing with her backpack strings under her desk, because when we started to line up for art, she couldn't get up. She had tied herself to her chair and couldn't get up. I smiled and let the rest of the class walk out to art as she looked around frantically for a savior. "Help, I'm stuck in my chair!" Bless our dear classroom manager, who stopped to free her. Hilarious!

Think Before You Speak

One of our vocab words this week is thrash-v. to move about wildly. Today I asked students to think of good descriptive sentences that show the word in context.
Mr. A: Who has a good sentence with the word thrash? Nestor?.
Nestor: My little brother thrashes about when he has to take a bath.
Mr. A: Great sentence! Using descriptive vocabulary really makes our sentences more interesting and vivid. Class, can't you just picture Nestor's little brother thrashing around in the bath?
Class: Ewwww!!
Mr. A: No I mean, no, it's descriptive, no, uh... Does anyone else have a sentence?

Friday, September 9, 2011

10 Reasons I Love My iPhone

1. I no longer have to memorize the Google maps page, then race out the door reciting directions in my head.

2. I actually waste less time on my computer because I can always check quickly to see if that important email has arrived.

3. I can lesson plan next to a calming pond complete with interactive goldfish.

4. When I see a book I like at Borders or a friend's house, I just barcode scan it with my Amazon app and buy it in 30 seconds.

5. I can have more than 3 alarms.

6. I Shazam like no one's business.

7. I can forward emails right when I say I'm going to, instead of forgetting to by the time I get home.

8. Jedi lightsaber duels.

9. I can Skype while I walk around my classroom.

10. At night when I'm curled up in bed reading and come across a new word, I can just grab my Dictionary app and look it up, hear the correct pronunciation, and save it.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

I Love Africa!

Awesome video of our work in Africa this summer. Mozambique!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

First Week Back

Facebook status Sunday, August 28, 2011 (the day before school):

So I guess it means I love my job when the night before the first day of school feels like Christmas Eve and I can't wait to fall asleep and I can't fall asleep. I get 28 precious gifts tomorrow!

The first week went really well. I am so much more comfortable in the classroom with a year under my belt--last year it took me months to loosen up with my kids. This year I'm already speaking in accents and dancing around the classroom. I've been able to be very clear about procedures and expectations (we even practiced how to put folders neatly into our backpacks so they don't get crinkled) now that I have a good idea of how I'd like my classroom to run.

I absolutely adore my now 31 students. Whew, that's a lot of kids in one room, let me tell you. It's a bit intimidating, but its incredible to me how even after a week (that's 25 hours together) I already care so deeply for these children, and I want the best for them. We've made big goals for this year, and I'm excited because I feel I have the tools this year to make sure we accomplish them. Since Africa I just feel better, happier, more in control, and that's make this potentially overwhelming week not only survivable but thrivable.

Stay tuned for more Room 25 updates!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Feels Like a Home

For the first time, my apartment feels like a home. I love my living room pictures and my dining room decor. Thank you Juliann for the ideas and inspiration, thank you Lindsay for the encouragement and motivation to actually put them up!

Moving In

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cabin 2011

Of all my trips this summer, visiting my Grandpa's cabin was the non-negotiable. It's probably my favorite place in the world. Grandpa says it is some of the most pristine, untouched wilderness in the country, and I'd agree. My friend Lindsay drove up with me from Vegas (and learned how to drive stick shift on the way) and we made quite a road trip of it.

We spent a day in Cody, seeing some of the sights, then we spent the next two days up Wind River at the cabin. We went on four-wheeler rides, explored the old mining town of Kerwin, and kept our soda in the river. Grandpa cut down some dying trees, and Lindsay and I tried our hands at wood splitting.

I was kinda bummed when we didn't see any animals the first day, especially since the people we passed on the road had all seen bears. Then the last afternoon, Lindsay and I were driving on the four-wheeler to close the gate when she starts shrieking and grabbing me--there was a moose right off the side of the road! Wow! Awesome and slightly scary. I was just super excited that we got to see an animal. All in all a very successful cabin trip.

Nature's Refrigerator

Die, Wood, Die!

Africa in My Blood

I absolutely adored my time in Mozambique. Africa reminded me how blessed I am to live where I do. Africa reminded me to be thankful for the opportunities I have. Africa showed me true natural beauty and showed me a simple, yet incredibly rewarding lifestyle. Africa really helped change my outlook on life and my attitude. Africa regrounded me in what is important, and reminded me what kind of person I want to be. I will never be the same.

Now I have Africa in my blood. I can't wait to get back.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Baby Orphanage

My blogging about Africa wouldn't be complete if I didn't mention the baby orphanage. I only got to go a few times, but the volunteer team goes there every morning for an hour. It is an unforgettable experience. When we first walk in, all of the toddlers are out in the yard, and when they see us, they scream and swarm all over us. They just want to be hugged, touched, held. If you sit down, they will swarm your lap, jostling for a position that puts them close to you.

Doesn't this video make you want to get on a plane to Africa right now?

You can also choose to go upstairs to visit the little babies. They are all in cribs side by side in two rooms, one for the 0 - 6 month-olds, one for the 6-12 month-olds. Sometimes we get to help feed them (always the same: oatmeal mush), but more often we just hold them. The first time I went I cried--it broke my heart to see all these babies just sitting alone in their cribs, without stimulation, without one-on-one attention. The workers are the orphanage are incredible, and very caring, but it's hard to invest a lot of time and love into when they're are so many little ones to care for.

This picture shows me trying to get Mateus (Matthew) to smile. He's a hard nut to crack--I played with him 3 days in a row, and I only got him to grin once. The other picture shows me holding, I think his name was Francisco. He's a little mischief maker, climbing into neighboring cribs and such.

The orphanage is right on the beach, so sometimes I would pick up a baby, go stand at the window looking out at the ocean, and softly sing hymns. I loved visiting the baby orphanage.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

You Know You're In Mozambique When..

Wow. I can't believe it. I'm already on my way back from Africa. My flight was scheduled to leave Saturday, but that would have left me alone in Mozambique for two days (the CFL workers are on vacation and the HELP team leaves on Thursday), so my flight got moved to today, Tuesday. We haven't had Internet for a week--it's out in the whole city--so I am writing to you from Johannesburg, South Africa, as I enjoy my 6-hour layover before my 15-hour flight back to the states.

Anyway, I've been writing blog posts all along, so below you'll find posts from this week we haven't had internet. Hope you enjoy them! Comment and let me know what you think! I love to get comments and know who's reading.


During our adventures the team made the following list titled “You Know You’re In Mozambique When...”

1. You use horse tape and yarn to keep the door from falling off the chapa (van).

2. You take pictures and kids tackle you.

3. You drive more on the wrong side of the road than the right.

4. You compare driving to playing MarioKart.

5. The taillight in your truck bursts into flames.

6. The ants are bigger than capterpillars.

7. Your door is locked with four padlocks, and you can still break in.

8. You watch Lion King in 16 parts.

9. You have to bring your own toilet paper everywhere.

10. When the internet stops working, it stops working in the whole city and it stops working for weeks at a time.

Monday, July 25, 2011

FHE with the Lost Boys

Tonight I had Family Home Evening with the Lost Boys.

My last night in Africa was one of the best nights ever. We went over for a barbeque at Kedesh, a boys orphanage pretty close to our house. There are around 25 boys that live there, and the orphanage is run by an American named John. They have this awesome site with a big soccer field and lots of wilderness, and a huge house with a big room upstairs that feels like a giant treehouse.

All the boys know how to cook, so while a few manned the barbeque, others fried up some onion rings, and we brought rice and sweet and sour meatballs. I feel so lucky that I speak Portuguese, because I could talk and joke and laugh with the boys—I love to learn about life in Mozambique.

After dinner we went upstairs for what could only be called an African orphanage Family Home Evening. One of older boys was MC, and with an egg beater as a microphone announced several dance groups including Balas Perdidas, New Boys, and Game Over. Two or three of the boys would get up and start dancing while the rest of us clapped and cheered. It felt like a family talent show. Then two of the boys played the guitar and sang, and we all got to sing along with their last song. Bella, the volunteer from Brazil also played and sang. Her voice is absolutely celestial—I could have sat there and listened to her all night.

There was one more song, during which I was pulled onto the dance floor to show off some of my moves, several of which generated some applause and whistling. J Much too soon we were saying goodbye, exchanging names to find each other on Facebook, and driving away for the last time. Truly these are the Lost Boys from Peter Pan. They live with just each other for brothers and John. The cook and clean for themselves, and live in a giant treehouse.

Tonight I had Family Home Evening with the Lost Boys.

*I'll add a video to this post of the boys dancing once I have reliable internet. Check back soon!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Nhamatanda Orphanage

Today was perhaps my favorite day in Africa. It will be hard to find words for my experience. We spent the day at an orphanage in Nhamatanda, a village about an hour and a half outside of Beira. The orphanage is run by a pastor named Domingos, and there are 65 orphans, girls and boys ages five to eighteen. All morning I was super excited knowing I would get to go to an orphanage today and play with the kids. I could hardly wait to get there. Fortunately I had the last chapter of The Happiness Hypothesis to finish on the ride.

When we got to the orphanage, we were quickly ushered into the great room, where chairs had been set up in the front for all of the volunteers. The kids sat in neat rows on wooden benches. When we were all seated, the kids started to sing for us. The sound was amazing! It was the most beautiful music, like a call and response sort of chant, complete with harmony. I could have listened to it all day.

After that warm welcome, everyone went outside onto the veranda to start on the day’s activities. I wanted to help with sewing, so I took a group of five young men, all in their late teens, and showed them how to sew a drawstring backpack. Now that I’ve done this several times before, this time I explained much better and helped them get set up for success from the get go. Four of my five successfully completed their backpacks, and proudly showed them off. Domingo, the last one, promised to finish.

We brought lunch for everyone (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches). With the backpacks done, I started to play with the younger boys. They are so adorable! Francisco, 13, showed me how to make a cool flower out of construction paper. Then I showed him and Manuel, 16, how to make my palm frond grasshopper. To keep things lively I started a paper airplane competition. During all this I’m joking with the boys, making them smile and laugh, and completely loving life. I gave my good airplane to Edson, 13, but even so Francisco’s went farther—he’s good with paper. J

Around 2:30pm, other volunteers were getting tired, but I felt invigorated—I wanted to stay there forever. The kids were so polite, so fun, and so excited to have us there. As the afternoon wound down, we all went back into the great room for a few more songs and a prayer. The kids sounded so great. As the music filled the room and I looked at their beautiful faces, I couldn’t hold back a few tears, tears of joy or tears of sadness I don’t know—I just know that I loved these kids I’d only known a few hours and I wanted the very best for them. The pastor shared a message of hope and gratitude for our visit, and several kids spoke as well. We handed out the hygiene kits and school bags we had brought as donations to the orphanage. Then I gave lots of hugs goodbye to Franciso, Edson, Manuel, Whait, Tindai, Johnny, and Jeronimo, and we were back in the chapa (Mozambican shuttle van) on our way home.

At one point in the afternoon Edson asked me a question that I didn’t understand very well. Francisco translated for me: “Edson and I were wondering if we could come to Beira with you during our vacation [school ended on Friday].” They looked at me with wide eyes and sweet, endearing faces. I said with all the truth I could convey, “I wish you could! I would love to spend more time with you, but I’ve leaving for the United States in just a few days!” As we were walking out, I told them that even though they couldn’t come with me in person, they would come with me in my heart. They smiled and nodded. Francisco and Edson, I will not forget you. I will pray for you—that you get every opportunity you deserve, and that your life is wonderful. You will be in my heart.

first row: Edson, Johnny, me, Francisco, more kids who jumped in
second row: volunteers Mariah and Isabella adding their flair :)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Income Generation 2

Besides interviewing budding entrepreneurs, I have also attended one of the Income Generation classes and sat in many meetings about how we can best achieve Care For Life’s goals of promoting self-reliance and alleviating suffering. We’ve toured a facility that makes coal stoves and also houses other small business ventures. One of the things we wanted to do is design a sort of savings program or mini-credit union that communities could implement in order to receive the advantages of joining funds, depositing money, and taking out loans.

Today was the culmination of the our efforts over the last three weeks. We selected two zones (about 30 families) in the community of Ngupa 2 to start an association. One of the zone leaders, Papa Marques, has been a great ally for us, and very excited about the program. He’s a real go-getter, and serves as a great help for CFL. For the whole morning before we got there, he was out knocking doors rounding up people for the meeting.

We were able to share our vision about what an association is, and I explained to them wat I thought were the benefits of being part of an association (which Marques then translated into dialect for me). An association is a legal group that usually has a bank account where members can deposit money and also take out loans. Because taking out loans is next to impossible here (the interest rates can be 50%), this is a pretty big deal.

The people got pretty excited about the idea, and several shared with me the business ideas they had that could be realized with a small, low-interest loan. After our discussion, Margues and Margarida wrote down the names of those people interested in joining (thirty-three!), and we even elected honorary officers until the association could be officially legalized. These people, and the members, will meet together to discuss what the association will look like, how people will borrow, and the difficult question of how to ensure people pay back their loans. When all of this is ready, I have offered some of my funds to start the association.

I told the villagers gathered there that they are pioneers. This will be the first association of its kind in the community, or any of the communities where Care For Life works. As such, they’re almost surely be hiccups along the way, and obstacles to overcome. Yet they can rejoice through their experience, not only will they be blessed, but also Care For Life will learn valuable lessons and better be able to help others in the future.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Team Mozambique

I can’t talk about the volunteer experience in Mozambique without talking about the team. While I’m officially here as an intern, I’ve spent a lot of time with the HELP volunteer team, and I live with them at home. The team is 10-14 people from all over who have come to Mozambique to volunteer for the month of July. You are with these people all day every day, so you become super close super quick. I love the team members. Each brings something unique to the group.

Margie is one of the team leaders, she makes sure everything goes smooth and knows what to do at the orphanages and communities. Check out her blog here with more about Mozambique (and pics of my stories and me!). Chris is the other team leader, a returned missionary that served in Mozambique, so he’s our connection to the culture and the language.

Sandy and Alice are two ladies who just stayed two weeks but were awesome—Sandy is this incredible volunteer fire fighter, triathlon runner, safari woman, and Alice saved our sewing projects with her adept needle and thread.

Wynn (pronounced Winnie) and Henry are the cutest couple, originally from Vietnam. I swear Wynn can do anything! She is a fabulous cook of Asian food, great with the kids, and can make anything from friendship bracelets to wood benches. Henry taught me to make a grasshopper from a palm frond. Definitely going to try that with my kids this year.

Sherri is another lady who comes, and she is the best at feeling—she really connects with the stories and the people. Sherri can simply see someone or hear their story and she already loves them. Read up on her version of our experience here.

Mariah and Michael Ann are college-age girls who decided to come on this adventure, and boy are we glad! Mariah is great with the young ones at the baby orphanage, and is a lot of fun to be around. Michael Ann brings energy to the group—she is incredibly enthusiastic and outgoing. She puts us all at ease and keeps us laughing.

Brandon and Meredith are brother/sister, both college-age as well. I love these two. Meredith is super nice, intelligent, and thoughtful. She always inspires us to always make the most of each moment in Mozambique. Brandon is the most prepared pre-missionary I’ve ever met. He also loves to read like few people I know—he’s devoured the book I brought along (Switch) and we’ve exchanged lists.

Isabella is a volunteer from Brazil. It’s great because she speaks Portuguese and English, she’s incredibly nice, and she is always appreciative of the beauty of Mozambique and its people. She has a beautiful singing voice, so sometimes she serenades us at night with her guitar. See some great pictures of our work on her blog here!

I have loved working with this group. Go team Mozambique!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Saturday is a Special Day

I love when I get to go out with the team and work in the villages and orphanages. Today we went to an orphanage in Dondo. In truth, it's not really an orphanage anymore because the roof has a gaping hole in it, so they had to shut it down pretty much. The kids got sent to surrounding houses or other orphanages in the city. Still we had fun with the kids who were there.

My favorite was Erlan. Another volunteer made him pipe cleaner glasses "just like mine", per his request. Then I suggested a paper airplane contest. So we set about folding and coloring the best airplanes we could. When we were ready, we climbed up on the ledge to throw them as far as we could. The winner? Well, I did make an eighth grade science fair project titled "Which Paper Airplane Goes the Farthest?" :). We danced and played, and generally had a great time. I love playing with the kids.

Then to add a cherry on top of the icing on the cake, we had a bonfire/tin foil dinner night out on the beach. The moon was beautiful--it emerged soft red, huge on the horizon, and lit up our small group as it rose in the sky. We invited our Mozambican friends from Care for Life, and others our team leader Chris knew from his mission. It was so much fun! We ate tin foil dinners of meat, potatoes, and veggies with soft fresh-baked bread. One of the ladies I invited prepared some sort of incredibly juicy lemon chicken that was to die for. We sat on the beach, dipped our toes in the Indian Ocean, frolicked in the sand, and enjoyed the company of friends. Perfect end to a perfect day.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Me in Mozambique

Papaya for breakfast? Yeah!

Teaching kids to sew backpacks

Teaching English

Beautiful Mozambique

The Children of Mozambique

Boys from the orphanage

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Income Generation

Care For Life's work in Mozambique is centered around the Family Preservation Program, which helps families in rural communities with health, hygiene, cleanliness, and more. One of the areas in which Care For Life works is Income Generation--working with families to plant gardens or utilize other skills to start and maintain a small business that could bring in a little bit of extra income.

Care for Life is especially interested now in creating some sort of savings and credit program for these communities, so that the people will have a place to save money and/or take out loans for these small businesses. To give you some idea, when people try and get a loan from the bank, the interest rate can be around 40%--you borrow 100 Meticais, you have to pay back 140 next month. When they try and borrow from a neighbor or friend, the interest rate is 50%. Insane! Obviously, this deters most people from getting loans. CFL would like to make low-interest loans available to budding entrepreneurs. Part of my work here this summer is to visit the communities, talk to the people, and begin to think about what this could look like.

So for the last three days, I've been visiting communities with members of the CFL team to talk with families that already have small businesses, or would be interested in starting a small business to get a little bit of extra money. Talking with these people for even a few minutes, I am amazed, shocked, and inspired.

Albertina is an elderly woman who really wants to start a banana business--buying bananas closer to downtown and bringing them to her rural community to sell
Money needed to start her business: 100 Meticais (about $3.00)

Joana is a widow who takes care of six grandchildren because most of their mothers (her daughters) died in childbirth. The only income she has is from selling wine, which brings in about 150 MT ($5) every two weeks. Every day she travels outside of the village to tend to her garden, which is the only way she is able to take care of her family. She would love to expand her offerings to include other drinks that are in greater demand.
Money needed to expand her business: 1000 MT (about $34)

Three years ago, a Care For Life worker kept pressing Jordino to create his own business. Almost as a joke, he started selling stuff out of his front yard. Now he has a thriving corner store, where he sells oil, crackers, biscuits, drinks, detergent, and other general goods.
Money to start his business: 1250 MT ($41)

And my favorite story. Torres is the neatest 14-year-old entrepreneur. He really wanted to buy a cell phone (the model he wants costs about 1200 MT, $30), so he asked his dad for some money. He went to the beach, bought some fish, and began to sell it out of his front yard. Now he's got an income of 200 MT (about $6) about every 10 days. Now he gives money to his parents sometimes to help out. He's almost got enough saved to buy his cell phone.
Money needed to start Torres' business: 300 MT ($10)

This is incredible to me. First, it's inspiring to hear these stories and others of people starting a little business from almost nothing and creating for themselves a small but significant amount of income. What's shocking is how little is needed to help them get started ($3 for Albertina to start her banana business! $10 for Torres's fish!), but so many can't because they don't have that money, and they can't afford to borrow at the outrageous interest rates available to them. Hopefully my work with Income Generation can find ways to make credit more readily available to these wonderful entrepreneurs.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Gorongosa National Park

After visiting the boys orphanage, I thought to myself, "I can't go and just play in Gorongosa and go on a safari while these boys just stay here. I want to move in here, be their teacher, play with them, love them." But then I thought to myself, No, I need to experience all sides of Africa. And who I am to turn down the chance to safari in Africa? :)

So on Sunday we drove 5 hours Mario Kart style (weaving in and out of potholes) to Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. It was cloudy and rainy when we got there, so our plans for a sunset drive were quickly replaced with an afternoon safari. It was so Jumangi/Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. We were in this big Safari jeep, and we had to go through a gate into the deep forest of Africa, on the hunt for wild animals. Awesome!

We saw lots of warthogs, monkeys, and a variety of antelope-esque animals I didn't even know existed. Have you heard of waterbuck or nyala? Then about halfway through I spotted what I really wanted to see off in the distance. Elephants! They were close to the road, and the matriarch even charged us at one point because she was worried about her young ones. It was awesome! My other favorite part is when we we stopped to take some pictures of several monkeys about 20 yards away, and didn't even notice the warthog burrow two feet away from the jeep. They grunted, then bolted out of their hole, but not as fast as Michael Ann jumped clear across the jeep to the other side. I've never seen anyone move so fast--I couldn't stop laughing.

Our accommodations and the food were fantastic--a little African paradise in the middle of the jungle. Then the next morning bright and early at 6am, we began safari drive #2. We had a great guide, Motinho, who really knew his stuff and took us to the some great places. The highlight of this drive was the crocodiles and the African plains. At the end we came out on this large plain, and in every direction you could see heards of bushbuck, waterbuck, impala, and more. It was incredible, and just the kind of Africa experience I was hoping for.

Gorongosa is beautiful. It's an example of the natural resources and diversity that exist in Mozambique.