Monday, October 02, 2006

Exclusive - Personal Diary of Jackie Nova From MOMS ON THE ROAD AFRICA

In the new adventurous reality series, MOMS ON THE ROAD: AFRICA, the Travel Channel sent eight moms away from the comfort of their homes in the United States on a journey that changed their lives. For the next six weeks, the women abandon their family lives and set out across four countries in southern Africa - from Cape Town to Victoria Falls.

One extraordinary mom from the series, actress Jackie Nova, has written about her once in the lifetime experience in this exclusive personal diary for

by Jackie Nova

In the winter of 2006, I went on a journey that I will never forget - one that taught me many things, and also reinforced a lot of what I already knew about myself. Several months earlier, a good friend of mine who starred in a movie with me sent me a casting call she had seen. BBC′s Travel Channel was looking for mothers to go on a trip to Africa for a television show. It caught my attention because it seemed adventurous, interesting, and like an opportunity of a lifetime. I answered the casting call, and after a bit of a process of callbacks found out that I had been chosen as one of the moms.

Just before I left, my son cried hysterically, and begged me not to go. My agent scowled at me for missing the first part of "pilot season", and for doing a show that didn′t "pay". I honestly questioned whether I was doing the right thing. The director of the show assured me that it would not be a "reality show", and that it would not be marketed as such. I explained that as an actor, I wanted no part of the "reality show craze". I took the director′s word, and left my son and my fiance to fend for themselves, with some help from my brother and his girlfriend.

I left Los Angeles on January 27th, with only a large backpack that had been furnished by a sponsor of the show. The next six weeks of my life would challenge me physically, emotionally and socially.

We arrived in Capetown on January 29th. All of the mothers seemed very nice at first. We stayed in a beautiful hotel, and subsequently found out we′d be traveling by overland truck - a vehicle with a cooler, but no restroom, named after one of the Beatles - "Lennon".

In Capetown, we visited some wonderful places. Great restaurants, hotels, beaches and a winery. We walked and drove through the town of Khayelitsha, where we met a lot of children who lived in extremely poor conditions. In spite of these conditions, I was struck by how happy and full of life these children were. There were such beautiful smiles on their faces. It was refreshing and inspiring to see children living under these conditions able to smile and be happy. When they waved at us, we waved back, and smiled back. A few of the other moms found this objectionable, and chided some of us for waving like "Miss America contestants". I guess they would have preferred that we not wave, and that we shouted out to the children that they shouldn′t be happy or shouldn′t smile - that they were poor and had nothing to smile about. It was at this point that it began to become clear that some mothers on the trip were there to create controversy, and had probably been picked for this very reason. Coincidentally, the camera always seemed to be there to exploit and capture these moments. This was the first sign that what we were doing was in fact going to be something of a reality show. I could already hear my agent saying "I told you so" in my head.

We got to go surfing at Muizenberg Beach - something I′d never done before, but I ended up doing quite well. Our trainers told us that Amy O. and I were the best students they had. We went Abseiling on top of Table Mountain, which is 3 times higher than the top of the Empire State Building. This was an incredible experience. I had never done anything like this, and although it was terrifying, I repelled down the side of that mountain. I felt like Spiderwoman! But I felt even more like a super hero when we painted and refurnished an orphanage for a bunch of wonderful children. It was so awesome to be able to make a difference in their lives.

When we went to Robins Island, the site where Nelson Mandela had been imprisoned for so long, I got to open his cell with the "master key" given to us by our guide. I was also amazed that our guide, who had been a prisoner there himself, had found it in himself to actually forgive what had happened! The whole experience was very special, and taught me a lot of things that I never knew - so from that standpoint, I described the experience as enjoyable. No sooner had those words parted my lips than did the "reality show style drama" begin once again. The most melodramatic (and rude) of the moms accused me of being insensitive for using the word "enjoyable" to describe such a serious place. If you watch the show, you′ll see how it came out. It′s just silly. Really immature stuff. But obviously the producers of the show felt that was valuable material to include, so it′s right there for everyone to see!

Once we left Capetown, we crossed into Namibia. We thought that was where the heavy-duty camping was going to begin, but it didn′t yet. We stayed in some beautiful huts, went canoeing early in the morning, saw some wildlife and climbed some very high dunes. Two of the moms couldn′t make it up to the top of these dunes, and even though I′m in great shape, it was quite hard. Once at the top, we got to see the sun rise, which was beautiful. We did some shopping, quad biking, and sand boarding (which was for some reason frightening, but after I did it once, I had the hang of it). We also visited the Himba Tribe. I learned how to milk goats and make necklaces out of ostrich egg shells. It was interesting that the leader of this black tribe happened to be a white man, but it seemed there was an enormous amount of respect for him, and he seemed to really care for all the children genuinely. This oddity was not overlooked by our "drama queen mom", who refused to take part in anything there due to the color of the leader′s skin. Once again, the cameras loved this controversy. We went on safari, and saw some exotic animals close up, which was truly amazing, and something I couldn′t wait to share with my son Jason, who loves animals.

Namibia was also the place where a little girl stole and broke my heart - and I′m sure she felt that I broke hers too. This was one of the most intense experiences for me on this trip. We were all set to stay with a particular family from the Amutanga combined school. The moms were broken off into pairs, and expected to spend the night with a family. Amy O. and I were supposed to stay with the family of a girl named Petronella. I don′t know how the producers of the show will end up editing this part, but here′s what REALLY happened: When we got to Petronella′s house, the room we were supposed to sleep in was actually a concrete room with no bed or surface to sleep on. It was a room that was used for hanging meat to dry. The smell was horrible. Worse than all of this was that the family operated a sort of liquor store from another side of the house. As it got darker, there were strange men walking through the property, making comments to Amy and me that we could not understand as it was a different language, but their gestures were easy enough to understand. Amy and I truly felt unsafe - this was the only time throughout the entire trip that we felt in danger. The director didn′t think it was a big deal, but when Dean, the field producer saw the conditions, he pulled us out of there. Unfortunately, poor Petronella did not understand our feelings and concerns, and was very insulted and hurt that we left without staying the night. The next day she wouldn′t talk to us, and I was so upset. I think I cried more then than ever before. But I taught her class that day, corrected and handed out papers, and by the end of the day, someone translated our feelings to her and she accepted our apology. Since I got back home, I′ve sent her a package of things to help her situation. Before leaving Namibia, we met with AIDS and TB patients at an orphanage and outreach center. We sang for them, helped make bread for them, and put a meal together for them. Beans and a piece of bread was their meal.

In Botswana, we spent some time with the Bushmen Tribe, learning about their culture. We then made our way to a private airplane. I was very excited about this, as I love flying, but the joke was on me, because ten minutes before we landed, I got very sick and I puked my brains out! We then went camping at The Delta, which we travelled to in makoros, which are like little canoes. This was very exciting, and we saw Hippos close up - maybe too close. After that we saw another national park with tons of wildlife. It is interesting (and frightening) sleeping only feet away from lions. They make a certain noise when they breathe that sounds like drums. It is difficult to describe, but I′ll never forget that sound. Overall, camping was not my favorite sleeping arrangement, and I didn′t get much sleep.

Our last country was Zambia. We had been camping for quite a long time, in rain and mud, and bug infested areas. Just when we thought we could take no more camping, they surprised us with the most luxurious, expensive hotel I′ve ever been to. It was called The Livingstone. There were two girls to a room, and each group had their own butler! The grounds were spectacular. Zebras and monkeys were walking amongst us as if they were people. It was like being in the garden of eden. We took full advantage of this hotel. We walked to Victoria Falls, which was breathtaking. There is no way to describe it, everyone should see it in person. We did the "flying fox" which is a cable car suspended between cliffs. We went white water rafting. We rode on an elephant and pet and fed it. (There are pictures of me doing all these things on my website).

We went to a very fun restaurant one night in Zambia, which had a live band. I got up and sang with the band, and some of the other moms joined me. They called us "Jackie Nova and the Jackals". We did lots of cool shopping at the marketplace. I also got to volunteer at a refugee camp, helping with food distribution and rationing. We toured the big city of Lusaka, where we went bowling and went to some nice restaurants. By this point, I just couldn′t wait to get home to my family. It was a great experience but it was enough already. I needed to be home.

Overall, Africa is a place that I would definitely go back to again, but I′d go with my family, and maybe some of the moms I went with that I still keep in touch with (Amy O., Amy W., Tammy, Adrienne and Pat) - just not the "drama queens". I think the show has the potential to be a great show. I hope that the people editing it will do a tasteful job that minimizes little personal issues people had, and focuses on the important issues we learned about and the beautiful (and terrible) things we saw and experienced. Hopefully I was able to make some little difference in some people′s lives there, just as learning about them and visiting them has made a difference in mine. And as an actress, I now have a whole world of new experiences to draw from and use in my work, so in that sense, it was definitely worth the journey.

To learn more about Jackie Nova, please visit her website at

MOMS ON THE ROAD AFRICA can be seen on the Travel channel Thursdays evening at 10:00 pm EST.