We had the good fortune of connecting with Tonya Blessing and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Tonya, how do you think about risk?
Taking risks is like riding a roller coaster; standing in line impatiently, listening to the instructions about safety procedures, the tummy tickles when the ride begins, the white knuckle gripping, the extreme ups and downs; catching your breath between bouts of excitement, and when the ride ends wanting to start all over again. Risk taking thrills me. Ten years ago I moved to South Africa and started a non-profit organization. I am having the time of my life.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
A decade ago, I was asked to participate in a Denver based Writer’s Group. The group provided a springboard for me to write my first novel. The Whispering of the Willows is set during the late 1920’s in Big Creek, West Virginia. My mother spent several of her formative years in the tiny holler town. The book is dedicated to my mom and her siblings. In the midst of writing the story, I moved to South Africa. The challenge of relocating to a third world country and starting a nonprofit organization, put book writing on a shelf that was only attended to on rare occasions. As I settled into my new life, routines developed which did not include time for writing. Two years later, I was drawn once again into the beauty and struggle of Appalachian life. The book was finally finished and has been successful.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Day 1 Deanna arrives in Johannesburg, South Africa. We overnight at Afrika Sky Lodge. Dinner in the rustic dinning room is delicious. The fire in the courtyard is reminiscent of old Africa. Day 2 We travel to my home in Mokopane, a rural region filled with culture which delights and poverty which breaks the heart. Day 3 It is a great day to walk with the lions. Deanna and I work with two different animal handlers. We are given walking sticks to hold. The sticks have been used in the training process with the cubs. Holding the tails and rubbing the bellies of the cubs is the adventure of a lifetime. Day 4 In one of the rural villages, we meet with the wife of a tribal chief. The chief is working in the city, and his wife has replaced him in leading the impoverished community. She greets us in her bathrobe and slippers with two little dogs following her lead. Though her English is limited and broken, she insists on not using the translator we have brought with us for the visit. The village has over 80% unemployment. Most houses are one room tin shacks. Water is drawn from a communal pump. We also visit an after school feeding program for orphans and at risk children. Their schools uniforms are ragged, and their shoes some too big and stuffed with paper and others too small with toes poking through and backs removed. The children are fed mealie with added soy protein. Day 5 It is time to play with the ellies. We visit an area park that provides elephant encounters. Their skin looks smooth but in reality is covered with tiny bristle like hairs. A young female takes a liking to Deanna and sprays her with water.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Cheerleaders lead a variety of cheers: the yeah cheer when success is reached, the stay strong cheer when a score is needed, and the all important “go, go, go…” Three people come to mind when I think about shoutouts: Laura Bartnick who is my publisher, Idella Kercher who is a mentor and lifelong friend, and my husband who thinks I hold the world when really he does.
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