These past couple of weeks have been pretty great! I invested in my first pair of funky gap pants, so that’s definitely a plus. Two Friday’s ago we went to a club with our host sister, host cousins, and almost all of the TBB (Thinking Beyond Borders) gang – it was awesome. Proud to say I danced for four+ hours straight, even at the end when no one would dance with me and I had to dance around the table. The drunk men were definitely annoying, but also hilarious and harmless, as it would for sure only take a little push to have completely topple them over. I also created “defensive dancing” in which we would kick our legs out and sometimes add in a little punch, that move confused a lot of people.
On Saturday the gang went to lunch and the beach, where we dug up a stick and made Matt into a sand mermaid. The beach also had these huge rocks and the waves were breaking all around them and I don’t really know how to describe it, but it was so cool! After a bit, a few of us snuck away to a hotel restaurant right next to the beach and I discovered some of the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had, and finally got to order some fruit that wasn’t bananas and apples (not that there’s anything wrong with bananas and apples!)
On Sunday we went bird tagging, except really we watched a guy tag birds and talk about it for a bit before we embarked on another “hike,” and ended up at a restaurant where we waited an hour and a half for some of the worst pizzas ever. On the bright side, there was a swing set with tire swings, so what more do you really need?
During the week, Benji and I went to a new clinic and they put us to work color coating files, because as of right now all their patient’s files are paper and it’s not very rare that one of the 10,000+ files will get misplaced in the wrong box. Thus we started the job of labeling each file with a dot to mark whether it’s a 0-99, 100-199, etc.. In the afternoons when we were with all the students, we started work on our media projects, and had seminars about how HIV/AIDS spreads, why Sub-Saharan Africa has been hit by HIV/AIDS so much harder than other regions of the world, and stereotypes. We also hit up the same beach as before and hotel restaurant a couple times, and went to the PlettAid (the NGO we’re working for) annual meeting about finances, how things are going, and so on.
This last Saturday was the most exciting by far, jumping off the world’s tallest bungee jump bridge! It was terrifying. I cried before we even walked out to the bridge, but I knew I’d hate myself if I didn’t do it. I even got Saoirse, who hates hugs, to hug me. (Side note: Matt and I are definitely gonna turn Saoirse into a hugger by the end of the trip). Anyways, we got out there and I was the fourth one called. I very nearly did not jump, was heard multiple times yelling “nope, I really actually don’t want to do this,” and the last words I said to the bungee men before they “helped” me “jump” was “I hate you.” (Don’t worry I went up and thanked them later.) I’m so glad I did it and would 100% recommend!!
This week was spent with a PlettAid caregiver in the Crags clinic. To clarify what PlettAid (the NGO we’re working with) does: it’s essentially an at home hospice program. Caregivers are employed to go to homes of patients with chronic sickness in different communities and do their best to give them physical, emotional, and spiritual support. This can range from helping to organize meds to arranging trips to the hospital (a 40 minute car ride away) to talking them and their families through what is happening and helping them cope.
Public healthcare in South Africa is free for everyone, but PlettAid’s at home check-ins, free transportation, and approach to emotional and spiritual support are a few of the things that make it unique. The service is free, but requires patients, their families, or someone close to them to contact PlettAid, who will send someone to come do an assessment of the situation. Currently the carer that Benji and I worked with has about 14 patients in the Crags, a surprisingly small amount. Benji and I went with her to visit a few patients each day, with ailments including AIDS, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, tuberculosis and blindness.
In one of our afternoon seminars this week, we revisited a question we started talking about at orientation: what is development? This seminar was specifically focused on foreign aid, in reflection of the book “Dead Aid,” which essentially claims that foreign aid has pushed Africa into turmoil and must be stopped. We also had a seminar discussing why Uganda succeeded at designing an effective policy to address HIV/AIDS while South Africa failed. From this we discussed what South Africa could potentially do in the future. Definitely a tricky topic, but we should be able to solve the whole issue by the time we leave.
We went to the beach again a few times this week, and have essentially claimed the hotel whose restaurant we go to every time to be our own, and even took the liberty of using their super warm pool the other day. It’s so, so pretty out on the rocks in that area, especially around sunset. Today (I guess yesterday by the time I post this), we found a dead jellyfish washed up on shore and these really, really cool and really, really weird snails eating it.
For those of you who saw my “good things” list in my planner last year, I’ve created a second edition called “gap year appreciations.” A very shortened version of this list goes as follows: good books that actually teach you things, taxi drivers who fall in love with your “colleagues,” hot chocolate after swimming in the (Indian?!) Ocean, walking through the Crags, 14-17 people in a van, baboons on the side of the road, kindle dictionaries (I’m also creating a list of new words I like), Ben’s nipple ring (yes, one of the guys got his nipple pierced after losing a bet), group hugs (does that mean at least four or five people? I vote four), big waves, people’s shock at apples and peanut butter, pac towels (they’re actually so cool), cafés, chacos, writing poems and reading other people’s poems, and early nights of sleep.
I also created a new word. Gappy – (adj.) meaning to be happy in a gap year way. “Cat felt gappy when she threw on her elephant pants and banana socks and headed to the beach.”
Last but not least, I have two more books to recommend! One is “28 Stories of AIDS in Africa” in which each chapter follows one person’s story about having AIDS or working with AIDS in a wide range of countries. Some are more focused on the personal story, and some focus more on teaching about larger stories, for example why miners in South Africa were so likely to contract HIV and spread it back at their villages, or the issue of the growing number of AIDS orphans. I would give you an example of one of my favorite quotes, but I really can’t choose just one because there is such a broad range of information and stories and I don’t want to mislead you in what you think the book’s about.
The other book is “Pathologies of Power” by Paul Farmer. To be fair, I’m only 15% of the way through, but it’s been highly recommended to me and has so far lived up to expectations. As Robert Lawrence puts it in his praise for the book, “’… the insidious violations of human rights due to structural violence involving the denial of economic opportunity, decent housing, or access to health care and education are commonly ignored. Pathologies of Power makes a powerful case that our very humanity is threatened by our collective failure to end these abuses.’” Also, Paul Farmer is just unreal.
If you made it this far thanks for reading, and hope you’re having a great day! XXX
Ps. If the photo doesn’t look like it was taken on a GoPro, photo creds probably go to the one and only Q (Quinn Rainer).