Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Cape Town and the Final Send Off

I’m writing this blog post having just taken off from Johannesburg (aka, I just left Africa all together for the last time—but don’t worry, I’m coming back!). I can’t believe my time here has come to a close! I don’t wanna get to sappy here, but really where did the last seven weeks ago. Although Gabs wasn’t my favorite place in the world, it was the first place in Africa that I ever truly got to know, and for that it will truly always have a place in my heart. Another place in Africa that will always have a place in my heart? Cape Town. Let me take you back to this amazing place and tell you about all the wonderful things I got to see and do. I’ve got to come back one day, just to revisit all these places that have taken my breath over the last seven weeks. But for now, to Cape Town.

Day 1:
We left Gabs on Wednesday night after giving our last presentations for class and having had our farewell dinner the night before at our beloved Mokolodi Nature Reserve. We packed up our bags and waited for our driver to come get us. Now. He originally said he wanted to come get us to take us across the border to the Joburg Airport at 11pm with our flight scheduled to leave for Cape Town at 6am the next morning. However, we thought that was cutting it a bit close so we asked him if he could come get us at 9pm. Ofcourse he replied that he couldn’t make it by then, but assured us that he would be there between 9:30 and 10. Well, 10:15 rolls around and still no driver. So we called and called and finally he picks up and tells us that he’ll be there in five minutes. 15 minutes later he arrives and we are off. We cross the Botswana-South Africa border with ease and continue on our drive to the airport. Because I am supposedly the most bossy and stern of the group, I am elected to sit in the front seat with the driver which is fine because I had been planning to stay awake the whole drive anyway to make sure nothing went wrong. Our driver was very interesting, but he soon became exhausting. His name was Tim and his mother is from India and his dad from Bots, so he looks Indian but has a South African accent. He talked about his business ventures and his family life, but what really caught my attention was the fact that he lived in the Congo for five years. That’s right, MY Congo. So ofcourse I pestered him with questions and he seemed very intrigued at how interested I was in the country and the violence and it just made me want to visit there even more (sorry momma).

Finally we arrived at the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg for our flight to Cape Town. Our plane took off with ease and soon I was looking over some of the most exquisite scenery I have ever seen in my life. Patches upon patches of greenery covered the land outside my window. It looked like a scene out of a movie set in Ireland except instead of rolling hills, huge mountain ranges would pop out of nowhere and soon disappear as quickly as they emerged. I knew I was going to love it in Cape Town immediately.

I had picked out the Backpacker where we would be staying in for three nights, called Atlantic Point Backpacker. I really hoped it was going to live up to its rave reviews in all the guide books I had read—it was rated top backpacker in Southern Africa in 2011 and 2012! It lived up to my expectation that’s for sure!

Common Area--wifi included!
Atlantic Point Backpacker!

Our 8 Person Female Dorm

After checking out our 8 person female dorm we set out to see the waterfront and we shocked by just how gorgeous our surroundings were. Literally mountains and water collided everywhere we looked. We couldn’t decide what Cape Town reminded us of so we decided that it is a mixture of Greece, Ireland, Italy, Chicago (in the downtown area) and sometimes Barcelona. We walked around and took pictures for a while and then went to buy our Robben Island tickets for Sunday morning and had lunch at a little restaurant next to a bridge looking over the iconic Table Mountain. We then took a bus tour around the city and up to Table Mountain. It’s called that because the top of the mountain is long and flat like a table. We took a cable car to the top of Table Mountain and spent two hours taking pictures and marveling at how tiny the city of Cape Town looked from that high up. After our first day of touring we were completely wiped so we had a quick bite and returned for an early night in at Atlantic Point.
Table Mountain from the Warf
Beautiful Cape Town from Table Mountain!

Truly on Top of Africa (in Cape Town)

Day 2:
Green Square Market
The next day we woke up early in anticipation of a good morning of shopping. We visited a place called the Green Square Market where we discovered rows and rows of stalls filled with wooden bowls, spoons and statues and scarves and jewelry galore. Lets just say we went a little crazy, even though we knew we’d have trouble fitting everything into our suitcase on our way home, we didn’t care. After spending way to much money on presents for all our friends and family we dropped our bags of at our backpackers and set out for our afternoon boat tour. We chose to take an hour and half boat tour on the Catamirand. This boat was a lot bumpier than we had anticipated but boy was the water gorgeous. It brought back memories of spending hours laying out on the boats in Thailand last summer. Feeling a little queezier than we had liked an hour and a half later we got of the boat and ventured down to Capes Bay—an area of gorgeous mountain-side houses and restaurants set right on the beachfront—to have our designated “nice” dinner of the trip. We found this cute little Italian place that our cab driver had recommended to us and had a three-hour dinner (though it really didn’t feel like it). I had probably the best meal of the last seven weeks there. I had been craving caprese salad for a while and what did they have on the menu? Fresh buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes! I also had asparagus and prawn risotto and delighted in my friends wondering what the heck I was talking about when trying to explain what Arborio rice was (haha Abigail and Lakin). Little did we know when we finished our yummy meal that our cab driver had been waiting outside the restaurant the whole time! We giggled and told him we had to stop over to the gelato shop next door before he could take us home. I had chocolate of course. Yum Yum.

Day 3:
Wine Tasting!
Our third day in Cape Town was designated as a wine day. We had all read about Stellenbosch and all the beautiful wineries and wines available to us, so we knew it was something we couldn’t pass up. Especially since we are all legal in Africa! And since we were in Africa, something had to go wrong or else it wouldn’t really be an African Adventure. When we got downstairs that morning at 9am to meet our wine guide for the day he wasn’t there. So we waited a half and hour and then had the girl at the front desk call to inquire about what the hold up was. Turns out that the tour guide remembered us booking a tour a few days ago but he had gotten busy later that day and forgot to put our booking in the system and so the tour had started without us. No worries though, the guide quickly arranged for a taxi to pick us up and soon we meet up with the seven other members of our wine tour group. We immediately were escorted to the first area of wine tasting and I quickly realized that Sauvignon Blanc is my cup of tea (vos of vino?). We toured a second winery where I bought my first bottle of wine! I really hope it survives the trip home to the States wrapped in t-shirts. At the third vineyard we got to do a cheese tasting after tasting their selection of wines and I actually found a type of feta cheese that I enjoyed. I still don’t like Gouda and blue cheese still repulses me. By the fourth winery all of us were a little sleepy and not that drunk and the people at the vineyards kept asking why we weren’t talking or being more rowdy. At this point I really felt my body telling me that it’s time to slow down and get some rest. But unfortunately we had a Robben Island tour the next morning. So we said goodbye to our friendly guide and headed out for our last dinner in Cape Town. What was our meal? Sushi!! Oh how I’d missed it, though I must say it didn’t compare to Sunda or Roka Akor’s sushi (both of which I recommended to all my friends when they come visit me or my city in the future).

Day 4:
For our final morning in Cape Town we visited Robben Island by ferry and learned all about the quarters and land where Nelson Mandela spent 26 years of his life as a prisoner from 1964 to 1982 for speaking out against Apartheid. We first took a tour around the island by bus where we learned about Robert Sobukewe, the Sharpeville Massacre and the only privately owned building still standing on the Island that is a church that housed all the leprosy victims way back when. We then walked around the actual prison grounds where Mandela’s cell is by a former prisoner named Jama who was at Robben Island from 1977 to 1982; he was incarcerated for organizing protests at his high school after the Soweto Massacre in 1976.
The Gate to Robben Island

Nelson Mandela's Prison Cell

A Group Cell
Each prison section—there are seven, A, B, C, D, E and F—has single and group cells. Section B was where Nelson Mandela spent his sentencing and Section C was used for solitary confinement. The group cells housed some 30 odd inmates and until 1978, none of the prisoners had beds but rather, slept on two folded mats and each got three blankets. Think about it. Mandela spent his first 14 years in prison without a bed, in a cell that we concluded to be about 6.5 ft in width by 9 ft in length. We learned that the inmates were allowed to play sports on Saturdays and created clubs and teams and played against each other in matches. People in Section D, where our tour guide was held, were allowed to write and receive one letter a month and receive one visitor a month. We were then taken to see Mandela’s actual cell which was really interesting to see in person, though I was disappointed that we couldn’t actually go into his cell, or any one for that matter. I think people would be able to get a better sense of just how confined these prisoners were on the Island if they could stand inside the space that people spent decades of their lives in. We also saw Mandela’s garden where he hid his manuscript called A Long Walk to Freedom, that he started writing while on the Island. He managed to smuggle most of the manuscript out when he was freed in 1982. The last political prisoners on Robben Island were released in 1991 and common law prisoners began to arrive to take their place. Robben Island closed for good in 1996 and today there lives a small but vibrant community there.

After our Robben Island tour we went back to our backpacker to check out and pay the rest of our bill in cash (they prefer it that way). After we had called our taxi for the airport we learned that our flight was already delayed an hour. Unfortunately the one time a taxi chose to show up on time we didn’t actually leave to need yet. But since we had called one, we had to take the taxi then to the airport even though our flight wasn’t due to leave for another 3.5 hours. When we got to the airport our flight had been pushed back yet another hour. We sat and waited for a while and ate an early dinner at the only restaurant or eatery in the entire airport. We also then found out that not only would we be leaving three hours later than anticipated but the actual flight journey would take an extra hour because we would be flying in a propeller plane. But finally we got on the plane and it took off, rumbling and all. We arrived back in Gabs at around 10:30pm and I still had to pack all my stuff for my flight back to Joburg the next day at 4:20 pm.

You know I love travelling, but getting home one night and turning around to fly back to the exact same airport was a bit much, but I did it in the name of seeing more places in Africa and to experience as much as possible. I’m so thankful for my friends who were willing to see more of Africa with me, I couldn’t have imagined a better group of gals to travel with and I know we’ll meet up again in America before we know it! From shared annoyances to cry-laughing fits at dinner, Cape Town was a blast!

The End:
Well, that’s it. I’ve finally set foot in Africa and I’m more addicted than ever. More than anything I wanted to travel to Africa to prove to myself that I could feel comfortable half way around the world and I did. I loved eating the street food, walking around the clinics and learning to take the combis. Travelling to new places by bus was interesting to say the least, but it gave my experience such a unique flavor that I wouldn’t change a single thing (no, not even that 12 hour bus ride to Victoria Falls). Now that I’m flying over North Africa back to the States, I wish I didn’t have to leave, though I’m excited to share all my stories in person with my friends and family. From Gabs, Serowe and Kanye to Zimbabwe, Joburg and Cape Town I’m now sure more than ever that Africa is where I belong.

To Africa, for Africa. I’ll be seeing you soon.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Weekend in Johannesburg

Unfortunately my week consisted of extremely boring clinicals because of how repetitive all the motions are in observing the same kinds of routine services and ordinary health cases. Nothing really seems new anymore. In addition to my riveting work week, I also took my Setswana final and my Environmental Public Health Final, both of which were great fun (...but not really). My Environmental Public Health Final really showed me how different the education system is here in Bots...and how much I don't like it. We literally had to study for a test for a class that we only had three times and therefore had absolutely no idea what to expect! Enough of that boring stuff though. 

Thursday was the 4th of July and so a bunch of us attended a party thrown by the US Embassy but it was pretty disappointing because the food wasn't that great and the fire workers literally did not get off the ground...and it was actually really strange to see so many Americans in one place. My group also decided to throw a party for all of us in one of our dorm rooms so we had a blast with that, and the next morning I was off to Johannesburg! 

Brown Sugar Backpackers!

The first thing that I noticed about Joberg is how big it is. But really, it could have easily passed as New York or Chicago. We arrived in the evening on Friday and had an amazing (yes really that good) dinner at our backpacker called Brown Sugar, a quaint little hostel type place situation on a hill overlooking the city. We went out that night but nothing really interesting occurred so that's all I'll say about that. Except for the fact that it was FREEZING walking around trying to find a good bar to go to. Oh wait, I almost forget to mention this. So Joberg is a pretty dangerous city to live in and walk around, especially at night. For instance, we learned that cars don't stop at red lights at night but rather treat them as stop signs because if a car stops for too long it will become an easy target for getting carjacked. Nice right? On a happier note, on Friday we celebrated my friend Abigail's 21st birthday!

At the Top of Africa!
The next day we started out early to meet our tour guide for the day. Or first stop was the tallest building in South Africa where we got to see some really awesome views of Joberg despite the clouds looming all around us. 

After that we continued on to visit the town of Soweto, a really rural village where Nelson Mandela actually lives when he comes to Joberg. While we learned that Joberg is a pretty dangerous city to live in, the opposite is actually true of Soweto which is surprising considering how much poverty and lack of education there is. We got a tour of Soweto from a local guide that lives in the village and uses the tours to educate people the people living in Soweto that are defying the odds and going to school and trying to change their circumstances instead of sitting back and feeling sorry for themselves and not trying to work as hard as they can. 

Nothing more gorgeous than smiling kids
As we were walking around Soweto, kids came up to us and asked our names and if we had anything to give them. We were told that they would do this and that we could give them sweets or fruit but not money. We got to see the inside of a single family house that had two incredibly teeny rooms with two beds that were in the same room as the kitchen stove and table. The walls were covered with newpaper for insulation and there we cracks in the ceiling everywhere. Five people live in this house. We talked to one of the girls that lives there and learned that she is one of the exceptions. She is studying at University and wants to become a lawyer one day. Perhaps even a magistrate. The local guide kept telling us that it was offensive to taken pictures of everything we were seeing but I still really couldn't feel comfortable taking pictures (though of course I did anyway to document the experience and what I was witnessing). There's just something that seems very hierarchical about a group of white kids walking around a poor village and taking pictures of everything, shocked and astonished in disbelief. And while I'm not saying that I sent shocked by the extreme poverty, I just wish there were other ways to ingrain the images in my mind for reflection besides whipping out a technological device that I bet the majority of the people living in Soweto have never even held in the hands. At the end of the tour we were asked if we would buy sweets for the kids. We all pulled out some Rand (South African currency) and bought a bunch of tiny candies and oranges. The kids have obviously done this many times because they all immediately formed a line to receive the food. When I handed a child a piece of candy, they almost robotically clapped their hands and bowed their head in gratitude. Although I was happy to give them something sweet to make them smile, the whole process didn't really sit well with me. 

Walking around Soweto

A typical house 

Township Artwork

The fully restored house of Nelson Mandela
Next we visited Nelson Mandela's house that has now been converted into a museum. The original building has been restored, although some of the structural formations had to be redone. We toured the inside of the house and saw a variety of awards, pictures and artifacts that had been granted to or received my Mandela and his third and current wife, Winnie. Seeing and hearing all the stories about Mandela's life made me even more excited to visit Robben Island next weekend in Cape Town! 

The Joburg Group inside the Mandela House!
The famous picture of Hector Pieterson
We continued on to the Hector Pieterson Museum which was named after a young boy that was shot and killed during the riot when school aged children were peacefully protesting the use of solely Afrikaans language in schools, when the police open fired on the crowd. The picture of this little boy being carried by his brother away from the scene with his sister running along side them became an iconic symbol of the uprising and gave way to international recognition of the need to end Apartheid. I was really excited to visit this museum I had just learned about the Soweto Uprising in my History of Human Rights class this last semester, and it was awesome to see how much I learned from the class and then how much left there still was for me to discover. I believe it's important to learn about such student led uprisings that changed history because that's still the sort of thing that is today creating change around the world. It's our generation that has the power to make a difference in the world's future. 

Our last stop for the day was the Apartheid Museum. This museum is really intense and reminded me a lot of the Holocaust Museum iN Washington not just because of the similarities in content but also in how the museum was structured and layed out. There was quite a large Nelson exhibition, how ever, a lot of us thought that because of that focus on Mandela, we didn't learn as much about Apartheid as a whole as we would have liked. But not to worry, I got a great learning experience revolving around Apartheid from visiting Robben Island in Cape Town--don't worry the next blog post will go into much more detail about my Cape Town adventures! 

Outside the Apartheid Museum

Each color stick represents a set of quotes by Mandela.
We each picked one that we connected with the most.

Anyway, overall my weekend in Joburg was so much fun! W topped Sturday off by going out to a few bars and then spent most of the night at this cool club where Abigail and I shared a fishbowl (just a really huge bowl that gets you super drunk very quickly haha) of this drink called Sex Dragon which I can only describe as an amazing combination of Sex on the Beach and ginger ale plus different yummy favors that I can't even describe! Needless to say we had a fun night, and the pictures that surfaced the next day made that even clearer! 

My Girls!

I didn't really think I would like South Africa, but after visiting Joburg I realized I had had some very unrealistic preconceived notions about this country. I have come to really appreciate the culture and its people (and the night life :) ) and I'm definitely planning to come back! 

Stay tuned for what is most likely going to be my longest (and last) blog post from this trip, where I'll talk about my amazing trip to Cape Town to end my amazing African Adventure! 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Seeing Through the Eyes of a Child's Lens: Volunteering at Old Naledi Trust

This Monday was a national holiday in Botswana, so after spending a week in Kanye, a large group went to go volunteer at a Trust at Old Naledi that caters to the neighborhood kids that spend time at the Trust to receive meals and do activities. Old Naledi is the neighborhood where I spent the first week of clinicals so I thought I knew the area pretty well, but actually spending time outside the clinic doors and with so many under privileged kids made me see it in a whole new light. I had heard about this type of volunteering experience from some of those in our group who had gone to Old Naledi before, but I really had no idea what to expect. I love little kids so I was really hoping there would be some little ones to play with, and boy were there a lot of them!

We arrived about an hour and forty-five minutes late (no surprise there, I'm astonished I still somewhat expect our transport to arrive on time) to the area where we would be setting up activities with the kids. We were all immediately jumped on by dozens of kids--the younger ones grabbing at our hands and the older ones wanting to know our names and play with our hair. 

Abigail and I laughing with our new friend

Some of my favorite memories include painting the kids' faces (most of the boys wanted to be lions and that was the only animal I could semi-successfully create). Abigail and I got to play with an especially cute little girl whose mom wanted to get her face painted. This little girl was not having it though. Every time Abigail attempted to put the face paint crayon on her she would immediately either turn her head quickly or put up a hand to say "no way hosay!"It was no surprise that almost every single kid whose face we painted, and even those who were just hanging around watching, wanted their picture taken.

All the infatuation with cameras reminded me of a book I read where this one NGO (I know this is extremely descriptive, but I'm drawing a blank on the name) would go into rural villages around the world and give kids and adults cameras to take pictures with. The cameras were used in a way to get a sense of how a certain population viewed their own lives and what they found most valuable. In the end, each family got to keep a picture of their entire family as a keepsake (in most cases this was the only time they had actually seen themselves all together in years). Remembering this story, I couldn't help but wonder if these kids really just wanted to see what they themselves looked like by asking to see our cameras all the time (or if they had ever really seen themselves in a mirror before?). When the kids weren't grabbing for our cameras, many of them simply just looked up at us and asked to be held which was probably my single favorite thing I did that entire day. Most of the kids I held were very quiet and it was apparent to me that perhaps they don't get this type of affection or even physical closeness at home. I held them as long as they wanted to be held or until one pooped on me or started spitting up her bottle (yep, you read that right). 

Towards the end of our time at Old Naledi we prepared lunch for all the kids. The meal consisted of various colored hotdogs (yes, some hotdogs were regularly colored but others were oddly pink and red...) that we prepared and served in buns that were slathered with butter--sounds delicious I know. We also gave them watered down, really sweet juice, an orange, and a surprisingly tasty little candy. I had to remember that this was the only meal that these kids would eat for at least 12 hours, but I couldn't help but think how much I wanted to give them an apple and some peanut butter instead. It was really at that moment stuffing all the hotdogs that I wished I could do more to help in a more substantial way. Reason to come back and stay longer in Southern Africa? I think so!  
The group with all the kiddies!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Empowering Women and Finding Family in the Best Places

I sincerely apologize for the lack of blog posts, it's been a crazy two weeks! I just arrived back from the third largest village in Botswana, Kanye, which is located about an hour outside of Gabs and where I spent a week with a host family. I have so many pictures to share but first I want to back up a little and talk about Extension 2 clinic where I was working two weeks ago.

Although this clinic didn't have a maternal ward or a child welfare clinic area, I was able to do my first formal interview with the PMTCT Coordinator! Yes, that's rights, I used an informed consent form and everything! During our conversation she explained to me how the Routine HIV Testing (RHT) Program started from the ground up and how the PMTCT aspect is the real success story. For all the responsibility falls on the mother to ensure that her baby is safe and healthy which makes her that much more inclined to adhere to the ARV treatment during her pregnancy.  In trying to have women get consistently tested for HIV men stand in the way for full adherence because most of them refuse to get tested themselves saying that they say they aren't "ready" to know their status. Thus, though women are coming in to get tested themselves, if their partner doesn't know their own status, the program isn't able to have any real affect in lowering the rate of new infections because an HIV negative women can still easily be infected if her partner is unaware of his status. Because the PMTCT program is solely between and woman and her child, the transmission rate has dropped to 1% transmission simply because these women understand the importance of preventing the spread of HIV to the next generation--something no man can stand in the way of.

My group with the OBGYN in the scanning room
Again, during my interview, I heard about problems with drugs and alcohol especially in teenagers. But  I was at least encouraged by the persistence of such nurses and health educators such as this PMTCT Coordinator to never cease outreach activities. I spent almost an hour talking with her in her office and it was really amazing to hear her talk about all the changes she's witnessed to the health care system over the past decade, especially in helping women to see that they have the power to protect their kids from something that often they themselves can't control when it comes to protecting against HIV.

I also got to spend some quality time with some of my nurse friends that I made during my time observing in the HIV-testing and counseling rooms. They would bring me along on their breaks where I met with the rest of my group for tea, coffee, fat cakes, sometimes fries and a lot of freshly made bread and peanut butter. In addition, I received a marriage proposal from one of the male nurses at the clinic. His name was Life, and boy was he full of it! He was quite a source of entertainment for us that week!

Before I get to home stay pictures, the Thursday night before we left for Kanye, my roommates and I went out to celebrate our Motswana roommate Fiji's birthday. From there two of my friends and I met up with another Motswana friend Lera who is incredibly bubbly and energetic. She took us out to a bar called the Cigar Lounge which really turned into a club around midnight. It was quite a night! They played some really fab American music and everyone had a blast. I got to meet some more local Motswanas our age and it was awesome to feel like a part of a scene happening half way around the world from home! All the dancing sure did make me miss Iowa City though.

My bedroom 
The sitting room 
Alrighty, now to the home-stay! There's so much to talk about that I'm going to use my pictures to help you get an idea of what my experience was like. Though I must admit I had a rough first night adjusting, the next afternoon I met my 21-year old host sister and her cousin who is 22 and goes to UB also and I realized just how much I was going to enjoy my time in Kanye. I went to a clinic called Mafikhana Clinic in the mornings and then got to hang out with my family in the afternoon. Friday night my sister and cousins took me out, despite the fact that we did have water, electricity or cell service and I had such a fun night I'll never forget! Kanye is really a small town though because the next morning our combi driver who is a family friend asked me if I had a good night. Apparently word gets around fast when there's only one smiling white girl in the entire bar enjoying a night out with her new family!

The kitchen  

My little sister Ougafi playing games on my iPad

View of the compound area: I lived in my grandmother's house with my sister and cousin. My host mom and her two kids lived in the smaller house towards the back. 

Bathing with a bucket of water in a tub! Note
that the water had to be heated in a tea kettle. 

Abigail and I walking around Kanye after Clinicals

The waiting area of Mafikhana Clinic

My sister Thato taking hot water from the fire to make her bath

Walking with freshly cooked (and killed) chicken for dinner!

Mma Pearl serving Fat Cakes!
Ougafi sitting by the orange trees in the backyard 
My cousin Kgosi picking oranges

Little cousins playing outside at dusk

Dancing during a power outage!
Traditional wedding decorations at the head table 
Local wedding reception tent

Cooking tons and tons of food

The gals!

I came away from this week realizing how much more I enjoy being in smaller and more rural villages as opposed to a bigger city like Gabs. The people are just so much warmer and all the activities are so much more family based and authentic that I really didn't want to leave! I was promised that I could stay with my family any time I come back to Botswana and I told them I would be back sooner rather than later! 

Mma Donor and I during my last night in Kanye!