January 17, 2020

Well it is finally 2020 and I wish you all a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year. As for me, this past year was a very difficult one for my family and I, as my father passed away in September, the same month my mother passed, but several years ago. Two months after he passed away I had my birthday, then came Hanukkah, Christmas, my sister’s birthday and of course, now the New Year. All these “celebrations,” one after the other, were firsts without my father and extremely painful. Waking up in the morning and thinking about wishing him a happy new year and then the realization that I will never get to do that again. Suddenly I am an orphan and the month of September really sucks. When I talk to my sister we cannot talk about memories without breaking down and whereas before it was just mom we missed, now it is both of them and the “remember when” chats are doubly devastating and it has gotten worse during the Holidays.

JJ pic sizes elephant sunset

My father had a long and really good life. My parents were happily married, had their own business and travelled extensively.  One of their favorite places was the Kruger National Park in South Africa and needless to say, memories of our family’s many vacations there came flooding back! The 2am wakeup calls to get to the gate of the Park early in time for breakfast and so that we can watch the sun rise in that most incredible of places. We visited the KNP so often that my dad became a honorary game ranger. I don’t know whether they still do that, but years ago it was a big deal. Mom’s ashes are sprinkled there and now dad’s will be too, and I know they are in their “happy place,” and at peace. While I have not been back there for many years, I kept looking at the posts and beautiful pictures in a Facebook group about the Kruger National Park, and remembered all the places they mention, almost as if it was yesterday. Each camp has a special memory… a boyfriend I met, the BBQ or party on my parent’s birthdays or anniversaries… and the peace that is indescribable.

Sunset in Africa

I remember going on what is known as a “game drive” for which we had to get up before even the birds woke up, but it is is of course a lot of fun. We loved the excitement of looking for the “big 5” – elephants, lions, leopards and so forth, but we loved seeing all the animals in their natural habitat. Most of all, I remember the incredible feeling of contentment that, till today, drives me to go camping and hiking just to get out of the city and recharge my batteries. Whenever I feel that incredible sadness when thinking about mom and dad, I go to the mountains just hang out there and talk to them. It takes me back to a time when life was simple and the most complicated thing I had to deal with was, well, what I was going to wear. My parents were amazing and supportive and while we had our differences, I loved them both so much for many reasons, but mostly because they were just the most incredible people you can hope to meet. They would give the clothes off their back to anyone who needed help.

When we got back to the camp at night, after either hiking or on a game drive, the camp staff would be waiting with drinks and appetizers and then it was time for dinner. Good old South Africa food, which mostly consisted of BBQ and other delicacies. Dad’s favorite. After dinner the camp guests would gather around the fire pit and enjoy the most incredible sunset, which appears to have just waited for us before setting and basking us in the most unbelievable colors you have ever seen in your life. There is truly magic in that African sunset, as John Hemingway said. Well he said it about Africa, but it is especially true about the sunrise and sunset.


Dinner was usually some scrumptious traditional South African dishes and to this day I still make them at home or for events. South Africa consists of quite a melting pot of cultures which means that the food was a mix of the same but with a “personal touch” if I can call it that and then of course there are the typical dishes such as Bobotie and paptert… More about that later. The most ethnic is probably “pap and wors” – meaning porridge or grits that is rolled into a ball served with a tomato sauce and sausage. I cannot really describe the taste as it is quite unique and nothing like it sounds. Maybe if you attend one of my events in LA you can come and taste it and the pictures will give you some idea. Prawns Peri-Peri is just as amazing and such a treat. If you ever visit Mozambique, definitely order that, if you like spicy shellfish cooked in traditional Portuguese style, but still adopted in South African kitchens as a South African dish. Boerewors is best on a Braai (BBQ) and a South African staple and often accompanied by “tjops”… or steak and a braai just isn’t a braai without it. It is as much loved in SA as the American hot dog is loved over here. My father and mother were both natural chefs and just created the most incredible dishes. I never saw a caterer when they had events… they did it all! Must be where I got my love for cooking and party planning as well, and today it is where I find joy… creating parties that are extraordinary and memorable. We all shared a love of excellent food and don’t forget the wine! That heavenly South African Wine!

elephant in front of bedroom

As all of these memories came flooding back and as I kept thinking about those wonderful trips to that amazing place we called heaven on earth, the sleepy mornings as the sun rose, the laughter at dinner and excitement of seeing a leopard’s eyes in the lights of the vehicle when we went on a night drive… and I decided that somehow, I have to let people know just how amazing it is and inspire them to visit. There are no words to describe the beauty of the sunset, the peacefulness of the “bushveld”, and the excitement of hearing the night sounds; the lions roaring in the distance (or not so distant) and other sounds we could not always identify, which means you have to see it for yourself!

So… out of all the sadness was born a new passion. I miss you mom and dad and I always will, but the memories – oh the memories.

Thank you for spending this time with me!

Batyah Bender

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