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Lasting Memories

The Brooks’ Bunch prepares to leave Africa after almost two weeks of life-altering experiences


Near the end of the trip, Brooks' Bunch visited a school to meet their African counterparts

(contributed by Charlie Nobles)

JOHANNESBURG, S. Africa - At breakfast's end on Tuesday, the females traveling with Brooks' Bunch added an impressive melodic touch to the wind-down of the group's African trip. Their tune, entitled the Brooks' Bunch Song, playfully described their adventures and saluted Derrick Brooks, the Tampa Bay Bucs' linebacker who is sponsoring them.

When they were finished singing, they received a rousing applause, a good portion of it from other hotel guests.

Chaperone Stephanie Maza thought of the idea of a song salute, while two other chaperones - Anna Ruth Worten-Fritz and Martha Ford – wrote the words and a fourth chaperone, Leah Shepherd, developed the lyrics.

It said in part, blending in a refrain of "Ohohoooo," at the end of most verses:

"Over the ocean, spent hours in motion to get to Africa. The day was sunny, we changed some money - and climbed a mountain-top. Ohohoooo.

"We rode some bikes and got a fright from a thieving old baboon. While Silas (Taylor) worried, (security person) Fritz just hurried ... to get his bag back soon. Be careful of baboons. Oh, baboons!"

More than five minutes later, it ended thusly:

"In Swazi, the land of Swazi, we shopped until we dropped. We walked the mines, it was really fine. Oh, the candles we all bought. Oh, Africa.

"Thank you, Derrick." They repeated that last line eight times, reaching a crescendo at the end.

Shepherd, who represents the Bucs in Orlando, said everybody chipped in to make the song a nice presentation.

"It was a gift that came from the heart," she said.

Soon, the group was boarding a bus to visit a local high school. The trip to Old St. Mary's High represented the 20 deserving youngsters' first significant interaction with their African counterparts.

The sides asked questions of each other, showed the Africans the warm way friends greet each other and many exchanged addresses, promising to write.

Michael Sails, Tiffany Watts and Natasha Spencer also were well-received when they demonstrated step dancing.

When Ronterryeous Stewart, a representative from Orlando who is 5-foot-9, announced in front of the class that he was 13, he drew some oohs and aahs. "We grow 'em big in America," Stewart said.

Then the group loaded up the bus for the six-hour trip to Johannesburg and the subsequent 18 1/2-hour flight to Atlanta, factoring in one stop.

The day before had been eventful, too. The group visited an iron ore mine in the morning, then went to see the U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Swaziland. It had been the group's goal to visit former South African President Nelson Mandela, but he was out of town. So Ambassador Gregory Lee Johnson, a career diplomat from Seattle, had to do.

Johnson gave the youngsters a description of his responsibilities - mainly issuing visas and checking on the welfare of visiting Americans - and fielded a number of questions. At the end he presented each with a souvenir vase.

From there, Brooks' Bunch went to a candle factory, where a variety of candles are made with a jungle and/or animal theme. Someone said the factory's store sold so many candles that afternoon that it might be able to close for a month.

On the group's first ride around Swaziland the morning after checking into the hotel, a woman was spotted wearing a Brooks' Bunch shirt. "We haven't handed out any shirts here yet," trip coordinator Stephanie Waller said.

The tour guide noted that men in Swaziland can have as many wives as they can afford, while women may have only one husband. The King of Swaziland is just 32 years old and already has seven wives.

Conspicuous throughout the trip was the precision security work done by Vance International, a high profile security company based in Oakton, Va., that chooses its clients very selectively, said detail leader Ric Peregrino. He said he spent about two weeks in Africa before the group arrived familiarizing himself with the region.

"That was a great investment," Brooks said of hiring the security firm. "I wanted to make sure the kids felt safe."

Brooks spent more than $200,000 on this trip, a fact that doesn't make him blink.

"The Lord gave me the money and it's going to be spent," he said. "You can't put a price on this experience - the impact it's going to have. I expect to get some leaders from this group, and I think we have them."

Other snapshots that will endure:

  • The widespread shopping - and often the bartering the ensued – was a highlight, from Cape Town to Johannesburg to Swaziland. After one spree in Swaziland, the tour guide said, "I don't think this market has seen this much business in 10 years."
  • Seeing lions and elephants out in the wild.
  • The dancing in particular of Nick Johnson, Otis Cooper, Watts and Spencer the last night on the safari, after the group saw native dancing.
  • Artis Ponds' grandmother, Marie Hamilton, beaming at the Tampa sendoff, "He is setting a wonderful example for his brothers and sisters."
  • The educational benefits of seeing where Mandela was imprisoned and later where he lived.
  • The winning smile of Cooper, who will be a 10th grader at Tampa Harvest Christian Academy. "When he says 'I do' to a woman, there are going to be broken hearts all over the country," chaperone Kevin Gatlin said with a smile.
  • The friendly demeanor of the youngsters as they moved from city to city without much of hitch.
  • And finally, not only the love and respect shown Brooks by these teenagers, but the love and respect he showed back.
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