Wow so much has happened! Two Saturdays ago we went into Plett for the day to work on our media project at the French café place. After we ended up going to Kranshoek, one of the townships that some other students live in. We ventured to the edge of the township, and hiked downhill towards the ocean. We watched the waves from rocks and talked about life (typical), and went cave exploring! The caves were super dank, and we saw quite a few bats.
On Sunday we piled into the van and headed to Robertson, a town in the winelands of South Africa. Super pretty. We lived in a really nice hostel all together, which was great! It would be exhausting if we lived all together all the time, but it’s super fun when we are together.
In Robertson we did similar “work” to what we do in the Plett area, for a NGO called Breede River Hospice. In other words, we followed around community health workers (slightly different from hospice “carers”) and visited patients. However, the focus of community health workers is supposed to be data collection, and each has just a few patients. Data collection involves knocking on people’s doors and getting information about how many people live in the household, if they have TB, and so on. We also had presentations on the science of tuberculosis and medicine for it, as well as from a member of Breede River Hospice’s palliative support leader.
We also went on a “river cruise,” which was fun but definitely not made for teenagers. The boat seemed hand-made (?) out of wood, which was pretty cool. We got to dive off of the second “floor,” which was dope. After that I asked the PLs if we could get ice cream, at which point they told us we were going wine tasting. I still wanted ice cream but decided to play along… a few minutes later our van pulled into a wine brewery (if that’s what it’s called??) and we unloaded into their lobby. Weirdest wine tasting ever. After like 10 minutes they gave us each a little bit of white wine to taste. What they failed to do was tell us what we were drinking, and how we were supposed to “taste” it. Then they did the same thing with some red wine. Then we left.
A few minutes later our van pulled into another parking lot, at which point we were informed we were going cheese tasting. We went into the store (way more a store than an actual cheese place or restaurant or anything) and after ten minutes of waiting they came out with a platter of small cheese cubes, again with absolutely no explanation or naming of the cheese. A true lol. Fortunately, a couple of people bought a liter of ice cream which I happily devoured on the journey back to the hostel!
Sorry, I just really needed to share my feelings about that totally unimportant and insignificant situation.
Some other things that happened in Roberston: a seminar on what a proactive, international response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic should look like, a 30 minute run (please be proud, I really need to exercise), lots of girl’s bonding, and a bit too much staying up until 3:30 am, thx matt (tbt to high school and the GHS lib).
On Friday afternoon we packed up again and headed to Cape Town for “Independent” Student Travel (IST)!! For our first IST we were assigned a PL to help us figure things out. My group was me, Saoirse, Sophie, Maddy, and PL Chris. We got an Air BnB in the heart of Cape Town and had a very busy and very short weekend. On Saturday we went to three museums: the District 10 museum which talked about the removal of black people from their homes and into townships during apartheid, the museum of natural science, and an art museum. My favorite was the art museum, which had a lot of really great and interesting art with focuses on apartheid and the effects of apartheid. I like a lot of the pieces, but the only one I can remember the name of is fuck white people, which you can find at fuckwhitepeople.org .
We also fed pigeons, squirrels and ducks in the park-like place whose name I forget. Honestly, the biggest culture shock I’ve experienced on this trip was those squirrels who were so used to being fed that when Sophie and I leaned down and pretended to have food in our hands we were instantly surrounded by six squirrels who would come up to our hands and sniff for food. I also fed pigeons out of my hand. Wild (not literally…)
In the evening we walked around a neighborhood known for it’s colorful houses and went to an “African Mall” which had some cool paintings, clothes, figures, and so on. We ended up getting a drum lesson from a man from Mali, and we can now drop some sick beats… We also went to dinner at a “Mexican” restaurant, where my nachos were Doritos and they were covered in tomato sauce. Yum!
Most importantly, on Saturday, October 22, 2016, I drank my first ever coffee. I fear I’m an addict already. Scary, we’ll see if I can keep it under control.
On Sunday we hiked Table Mountain, which is right outside of, if not in Cape Town, with the whole gang. It was way too difficult, please pray for my fitness (Machu Piccu here we come!!). It was also super cool and fun because of fun people who also aren’t in shape. The top was really pretty and cool, although it was really strange because the view was a city and there were a ton of people up there because it’s very touristy and there’s a cable car that brings people up.
After, we went to the waterfront which had cool stores. I bought purple hair dye, but I lost it. Shame. I also got a GoPro selfie stick, so get ready. On Monday morning we went to the botanical gardens which was really nice. If anyone was wondering, Sophie loves ferns! Unfortunately, we had to leave pretty soon to head back home to Plett/the Crags, a nice 6 hour car ride.
This week I’m working in a school in one of the townships, Kwanokathula. The students there speak Khosa, their local language, until third grade. In third grade and beyond, the classes are taught in English. Naturally, this transition is very difficult for some students. Unfortunately, if they don’t catch on to English quickly enough, school becomes very (very) difficult for them. We work in fourth grade classrooms, each about 40 students, and correct their work books. It’s a lot of fun and I love it, but it’s stressful because there are so many students demanding your attention at once. It’s also sad because there are so many who don’t understand what they are learning at all.
The students each have a workbook for math and English, and there’s not much chance for individual attention or corrections from the teacher. In our math class the first day, I came to the realization that, despite the questions all focusing on weight measurement, about half the class didn’t understand that 1 kilogram is equal to 1,000 grams. When I tried to explain the concept of “kilo” they didn’t understand, and the English barrier didn’t help. They also didn’t all understand that one gram weighs less than five grams, which either has to do with the English barrier and/or a lack of understanding of the concept of weight. They also struggled with adding and subtracting, whether that means relying on only fingers for some, or struggling with big numbers. For example, 2,000 + 32 doesn’t equal 232. Or 210 – 120 doesn’t equal 190.
Yesterday morning we had an English class, in which some students were very close with all of their answers, and some were writing complete nonsense, and didn’t understand any of what we were trying to explain. I kind of wish I could work in the classroom for the rest of our stay here, but that doesn’t quite fit in with our focus on public health…
To all you camp people: I taught my class some camp songs this morning! Call and repeat all the way!
Thanks for reading!! XXX
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).
Since I have so many people I want to talk to and so little time on the internet, I’ve given in to the idea of a blog. Cross your fingers I actually keep it up!
In a quick recap, things are going well! I often find myself picturing a world map and pinpointing where I am on it: Plettenberg Bay, South Africa. Isn’t that wild?
In a longer recap: the whole trip so far, and it seems it will continue to be this way, is full of surprises and uncertainties. What will we be doing when “working” in the clinics, schools, etc.. is something we wonder about daily. Not to mention wondering who our driver for the day is supposed to be and, more importantly, if they’re gonna show up.
We started off strong with 24+ hours of travel (including the first of many games of Frisbee in the airport), we ended up at a campy (note the –y, it is very much not the camp I know) place at the end of a very long dirt road. During orientation all of us 14 students spent our time doing team building activities, seminars and the like, sharing our “rivers” (stories of our lives), and aggressively hanging out. Our second night there, five of us were playing soccer in the lodge at two am when one of the boys said, “guys, my journal’s gonna be so lit tomorrow!” Essentially: people are fun, playful, “lit” (our favorite group adjective), and like to journal and write poems. They also talk about music 85% of the time. (yikes!)
We also took some trips out of our temporary home to adventure in a canyon, see monkeys (!!!) and birds, and take a nature “hike” to our first beach! We separated for the first time last Thursday to move in with our host families. My friend Quinn and I moved into a home in the Crags, a township outside Plett. We have a mom, 27 year old sister, 12 year old brother, Aunt (who sometimes appears), cat, and two dogs, one of which is absolutely tiny. Also notable, our host mom and her six sisters run a kindergarten from our house during the day!
On Saturday, Quinn and I went with our host sister to a college graduation party in which everyone else showed up literally two hours late, and we listened to people give speeches in different languages about this girl. Very different from other graduation parties I’ve gone to, but definitely interesting.
Side note: we learned that in South Africa there is a difference between black and colored people, and that, unlike in the US, that is not an offensive way to categorize people. In fact, our host mother told us about how great it is to be a colored person because “you never know what the baby will look like! The color of their skin!” Let me clarify: colored people have one white parent and one black parent, or two colored parents. For our media project in South Africa, my friends Saoirse and Sophie and I are going to research how race affects health care in South Africa.
On Sunday, our group went on another “hike” to another beautiful beach where we hung out for a while before having our “mento” group meetings (essentially mentor groups with students and one program leader).
The past four days, I’ve spent the morning “working” in a clinic with my friend Benji. The first day we had a very brief orientation before we spent the morning on our own calling patients up to get their weight and blood pressure, and test their urine and blood sugar. Only at the end of the morning did we learn that not every patient has to have a urine and blood test…. Whoops!
Tuesday and Wednesday, however, the clinic has had essentially no work for us to do so we’ve been sitting around talking, reading, and listening to music. Today we spent our time sorting files! It’ll definitely be interesting to see how they use us in the future, and hopefully we’ll get to do more cool things like on Monday!
This weekend we are hoping to go clubbing with our host sister and explore Plett!
Last of all, I wanna recommend two books!! 1) Half the Sky which we refer to as “the woman book” and 2) Mountains Beyond Mountains about this totally unreal guy who started Partners and Health. It’s wild. (We read a lot).
Hope you’re all doing great and weren’t too bored by this blog post! Xoxo