Sunday, November 27, 2011

First Weeks in South Africa

I think we are actually on week three in South Africa? Not sure but it is definitely flying by so far.

We are living in Plettenberg Bay, which is right on the beach and it is BEAUTIFUL! The beach is only a 20 minute or so walk away from the house. Plett is really nice, very touristy, and it's weird to have the luxuries of a movie rental store and a big grocery store (ahh so many choices) within a short walk. Mijal and I are living with a young South African married couple, Daniel and Chrissy, whose first language is Afrikaans but their English is really good.

In the mornings Mijal and I both catch a taxi to a township called Kurland, aka the Crags, where we follow our caregivers from house to house visiting patients. My caregiver's name is Sindisua. Whenever she's with patients or even talking about her job she just lights up, I can tell she loves her work. We usually walk around visiting 4 or 5 patients a day, and it's cool to start to know the patients and who you're seeing on what day and everything. I enjoy the work but it is my first time seeing really sick people and it's definitely hard. I've gotten to take blood pressure and blood sugar and easy stuff like that but that's kind of all I can do other than smile. There's a language barrier with most of the patients, who either speak Afrikaans (sort of like Dutch but African) or Xhosa (the language with tons of clicks that sounds totally foreign). I'm picking up some basic phrases in the languages but not enough to really have a conversation with non-English speakers! Possibly the hardest thing for me has been seeing some of the housing conditions, which vary a lot in Kurland. There is some government housing that's pretty nice, but many people live in "informal housing" which are basically shacks made out of tin or wood and lined with cardboard or newspaper for insulation. People share spigots and bathrooms outside their houses. It bothers me so much, yet some of my happiest, most positive patients live in these houses. Anyway, next week we get to go help out at the women's shelter there, so I'm excited for that. After lunch every day our taxi picks us back up (our taxi driver and friend, Graiwin, plays some pretty awesome jams) and we drive 20 minutes back into Plett, back to the beautiful homes and tourists on the beach - it's kind of shocking how close the two communities are.

In the afternoons we walk down to our seminar space which is right on the beach (literally the classroom is a little hut in the sand and you can hear the waves). We're (obviously) studying public health and the HIV/AIDS epidemic here and the seminars have been really interesting. We've been discussing questions like "why has sub-Saharan Africa been hit so much harder than other regions of the world," "why is it so difficult to prevent the spread of a preventable disease," and, as always, "what is development?" We've drawn a lot of connections to the history of South Africa and Apartheid and the current public health system. It's all very thought-provoking and there is always SO much reading to do for the next seminar.

This weekend we had Thanksgiving at Rocky Road, which is the retreat center where we had orientation. We had a fantastic Thanksgiving dinner complete with turkey and mashed potatoes and everything, plus mac n cheese YUM. I'm thankful for the opportunity to be here, learning so much with an amazing group of people, and for my family and friends back home. We also went to Monkeyland on Thanksgiving, which is like a reserve for monkeys that are taken from captivity and sort of being rehabilitated to live in the wild. We got SO CLOSE to SO MANY MONKEYS and they were so cute. We took another beautiful hike and also had a guest speaker come talk to us about Apartheid and its end and the future for South Africa.

We also went paintballing for Tom's birthday last week, which was really fun despite the drizzling rain. Everyone got pretty into it and now we're sporting some gruesome bruises.

Next week we're going bungee jumping off the highest bungee bridge in the world (if the rain ever stops)! So much to look forward to, I'm loving South Africa. Hope everyone at home is doing well!

Sunday, November 13, 2011


I thought I was overdue to put pictures on this blog so here are some photos from the various hikes we've taken. One is Pichincha in Ecuador. There's also Machu Picchu and then the hike that we just took like two days ago in South Africa during orientation, called the Salt River hike. BEAUTIFUL these really don't do it justice.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Peru & the Inca Trail!

I conquered the Inca trail YEAH!!

Because it was definitely a challenge. Four days of crazy hiking. It was a lot fancier than I thought it´d be though - the food! We had like 3 course meals and tea time at 5 every day! We even had pancakes with dulce de leche one morning YUM. Plus we got hot water to wash our hands/feet/faces which was amazing.

But what was REALLY amazing was the porters! Our group of 12 had 18 porters carrying all our tents, groceries, sleeping bags, propane, everything. And they literally RUN up the mountain with so so so much stuff on their backs. They´re incredible! We also had two tour guides named Socrates and Jesus, no joke. They were really funny. We played bananagrams with them one night. I learned a ton from Socrates about the Incan culture and architecture, like the Andean cross or chacana which is really complicated and has a symbol in it for just about every part of Incan life. Crazy.

So seeing those porters sprinting up the mountains in FLIP FLOPS was especially awe-inspring because we were strugglin´ hard core. Day 2 was for sure the hardest, even though it wasn´t the longest, because we had to climb over the highest pass. It´s called Dead Woman´s Pass because from the bottom it´s supposed to look like a dead woman or something, but also because once you have climbed over it you are dead. And your legs are shaking and your face is frozen off because it has been raining all day and the wind is cruel. Day 3 was the longest but at that point we were all going a bit crazy which made it easier. Karelle, Sarah, Conner, Arden and I were bringing up the rear and dubbed ourselves the mountain goats. This mental strategy was literally the only thing that got me through day 3 because mountain goats NEVER get tired. Jesus stayed at the back with us the whole time and probably thought we were insane because we were singing and making animal noises and laughing hysterically. We decided that we need t-shirts that say ¨Mountain goats want s´mo¨. Also if we had a band it would be called Jesus and the Mountain Goats.

When we finally got to Machu Picchu on day 4 I was dead tired but it was still beautiful! We visited a ton of the temple ruins and saw where the Inca (king) lived and all the fountains and places where they´d do sacrifices and stuff. It´s amazing that the Incans had to move all those rocks to make their buildings. HUGE rocks. And we thought we had it bad hauling rocks on our mountains in the ´Walp!

Then we took a bus down to the town Aguas Calientes where we gorged ourselves on a buffet lunch. Later we took a beautiful train ride back to Cuzco. Did I mention that none of us had showered in the past 4 days of trekking. So we reeked pretty bad.

Then we had today to recover in Cuzco (DO LAUNDRY YAY) before we leave tomorrow for the longest day of travel - Peru to South Africa. I think it is like five flights or something. W0o0o0o thats all I can write now because the internet here is awful and this has to post so I can go pack hokay sorry bye