Sunday, June 12, 2016


We traveled a few hours to get to the Tuli Lodge, a piece of paradise. We arrived to be greeted by the staff with complimentary drinks. The rooms were incredible, I felt so privileged. We wake up at 600 for tea time, 630 early morning safari, then lunch, free time, evening safari dinner and bed. It's been pretty typical to be on this schedule, days are starting even earlier as this trip progresses. This trip has just made me feel so exhausted each morning, but refreshed by night. It is just such a magical thing to watch these beautiful animals roam and run free. Every piece of wild life just looked so beautiful. Every afternoon safari we toasted at sunset at a different spot. The sunset is just breathtaking. After sunset we continued the safari. You'd think being right next to a lion pack and hyenas in an open top truck would be frightful but they had no interest in us. Hyenas walked right up to the jeep and walk around, sniffed our tracker's shoes, and just walked around. On the first day we saw lots of Giraffes, Zebras and Impalas. The second day we saw huge fields of elephants, warthogs, guinea hens, various birds, dassies, wildabeast, etc. ! On our last day we found the lions. So cool to watch them in nature. I feel so happy to fulfill Poppops dream to go on safari even though he didn't get the chance. He would have loved it!

On our last night we had dinner on open fire. It was such a magical night,  I hope to never forget. It was my friend Abby's birthday and they had all the staff come and sing and dance for her. Their voices were so unbelievably beautiful. African music and dance just fills you up with goose bumps and a warm heart. Most of us were in tears listening and watching, knowing this trip was coming to a close. We've had so many ups and downs, learned so much, gone on adventures and grown as individuals. We've created such a strong bond as classmates I cannot wait to see what the future holds. It is so cool to just appreciate life in its simplicity out in the "bush", to see how animals cooperate together for survival. Darwin's theory is just primarily focused on the survival of the fittest, but we neglect to learn about how competitiveness falls short to cooperation. To witness the "circle of life"and its beauty. I just keep typing and erasing because I don't think I have the words to capture how amazing this safari has made me feel. I think some things are better in the mind than on paper. All I know is that South Africa has a very special place in my heart, and I'm so grateful to have had this opportunity.  I went to South Africa anticipating to help those struggling poor sickly people you read and see on advertisements. Yet, if anything I feel like we've been the ones who have been helped. To see life for what it really easy, breakaway from the stresses of a fast pace lifestyle. WE were looking at them trying to help them become a part of our lifestyle, that we failed to see that they were looking at us trying to help us live more simply. How sad it is that we stress of extraneous things, eating disorders, drug abuse, big pharma, mental illness, therapy consuming our every day lives. What if we didn't have such a big pedestal to compare to? What if our biggest worry was food, water and shelter? Never in my wildest dreams would I have predicted to have experienced and learned what I have. I'm forever grateful to be able to have learned some life lessons from these people. I hope one day I can return the favor!

Hakuna Matata

Sorry I've been so busy with traveling most of my blog is written very late at night, but I'm trying to keep you posted.  I promise when I get back in the states I'll upload more pictures and videos, but time is just so precious here and I'm trying to soak it all in.
Love and miss you all!!

Louis Trichardt, Limpopo

It has been a completely different change of pace in Louis Trichardt, Limpopo. We have to drive 3 KM on a very bumpy dirt road to get to the Madi a Thava mountain lodge. The owners started the lodge many years ago with a focus on art culture. None of the workers had education beyond a high school level and many didn’t even have a high school diploma. They taught the workers and trained them to help with the high unemployment rates. They still have to provide transportation for the workers in the mornings. The wifi here is pretty close to non-existent, we have set times for different groups of people to connect back home. The lodge is beautiful. Each room has its own d├ęcor filled with authentic artwork. There is a lot more wildlife at the lodge. We saw monkeys running behind my room, a leopard behind my professor’s room and all sorts of small animals and insects. On the second day we took a hike a Baobob tree estimates to be over 1000 years old! The baobob is a very rare but useful plant, it is known to be Africa’s super fruit. The bark heals the same way our skin does. The powder produced from the fruit has very high nutrient content and the extracted oil is useful for cosmetic use. The factory gave jobs to many in the area and was a very time consuming process, but an interesting one. The powder is easily extracted of the root and sifted and then bottled. The oil however must be extracted through squeezing and filtering several times to produce the oil. Just to go into the factory it looked like we were heading into surgery, scrubs on our shoes, full lab coat, hair net, mask and we had to scrub up before they put the gloves on.
            The following day we went to a HIV/Clinic that was very bizarre. They didn’t seem to really like Americans and seemed to be hiding a lot from us. They only let us in a small office until they wanted to take our picture did they allow us to go into the conference room. The book I signed into for visitors said 2004! I also found 5 boxes that were labeled “lost follow-ups”. I did however not realize that caffeine and alcohol should be kept to a minimum since they are diuretics. We then went to center for underprivileged children and orphans with HIV/AIDS. The kids were so well behaved and so happy to have some more attention. They had multiple traditional performances with singing and dancing and music from their teachers. Each child danced with their own style when individually, but well structured as a whole group. It was great to see a sense of confidence and individuality in these children especially given their circumstances. Kudos to their teachers. The teachers were so passionate in helping these children and it was great to see that they have already started to set these kids up for success. Though I wish I could say the same about some of the other places we’ve been. The children then showed us how well educated they are with counting, the alphabet, skits, different songs and such. They were all so cute I couldn’t help but smile the entire way through. After that we talked to the teenagers, which was very interesting. They talked about how they formed a support group but funding has been an issue to get them transport together. These teens were very brave to stand up and advocate for HIV/AIDS and share their story. “HIV/AIDS is not a moral condition.” Fortunately, they haven’t had a lot of negative stigma or people say mean things to them. However, one did talk to us about how a teacher she had was misinforming about HIV/AIDS and she took over the lesson. The teacher told the students you “can’t swim in a pool with someone with HIV or share clothes with them.” This is a bit scary that this is the kind of education that is enhances negative stigma where the opposite should be occurring.

It was also shocking to hear our tour guides from the lodge share their cultural beliefs of how HIV is acquired. One told us that if you have sex too soon after an abortion, you get infected with HIV. He also didn’t think it was possible to use protection because it cause it would create an argument with his wife, since she would ask if he was seeing other people and she would leave him. I was just in awe with the logic of that, what if you end up transmitting HIV/AIDS to her, wouldn’t you think she would leave then when she knows you cheated? He said she would have thought it was her fault because of the explanation he was taught from his Tsonga culture. It just made me sad to realize that part of their culture was misinforming them in a patriarchal favor. He didn’t think it was then possible to keep everyone happy. We tried to explain to him that if cares about his wife and thinks she would leave him, he should consider staying faithful or to be honest that he is with multiple partners and to use protection. If you really care, how would you feel to know you gave her HIV/AIDS? I think it was interesting to watch him go to the health education classes with us and watch him learn and really understand the contradictions his culture has given him. For example some say HIV doesn’t exist in Tsonga culture, yet they have traditional healers that have plants that cure HIV/AIDS. When we went to the healer he even added that you can’t go to the clinic with the herbal remedies because the plant is that strong. It is definitely a balance, I think herbal remedies should be given more of a chance before big pharma comes in, but disease like HIV/AIDS are not going to be treatable with a plant and it is just horrible to think of the effects of doing such. I was however happy to see that some of the people traditionally follow the songomas natural healing but still go to HIV/AIDS clinics for treatment. I wonder what they must feel being torn between 2 different cultures of medicine.
We also went to TVEP (Thohoyandou victim empowerment program) where there is a full support team for domestic violence, child abuse, rape, assault, LGBTQI, gender based violence etc. They have medical checks, group and individual therapy, legal and justice support, financial support, daycares, social workers, etc. They had so many posters to bring awareness to several topics. One stood out to me  “He beat her 132 times and she only go flower once” with a picture of a casket. At the bottom it said “Women of Africa won’t be beaten, stop domestic violence today, do not tolerate it.” There was also a group to stop HIV/AIDS discrimination. We saw a video that had one of the teens we met at the school previously and it was awesome to see her in an even more inspirational light. Their messages were so powerful.
We got to really dive into the culture by walking around the market to see traditional shops, grocery stores, clothing, music, artwork, etc. We walked through the market to see lots of hair shops with what Musa (our tour guide) says the women get plastic hair (weave). There were these huge buckets full of spiced termites, crickets and other insects. Have to admit I tried a termite and it was actually not that bad, crunchy and salty. We went to a traditional fabric store to see the patterns that they typically wear, just so colorful. Going to the grocery store was an experience. They should the big bags of mealie meal to make paap, as well as the cow heads, stomachs, intestines, kidneys and pig heads. It was just a culture experience to me, comparing the difference between my culture and theirs, though majority of the group felt uncomfortable. They felt we were mocking their culture. It was interesting to hear my group feel like we were caged in a zoo being stared at when I just saw it as curiosity. I then reflected on the rest of the trip wondering if when we were looking at culture if we made people feel like they were on display as well. I remember being at the Cape of Good Hope and these Indian women asking to take pictures of us, with us and if we wanted pictures of them. At the time we were all pretty creeped out, but now that I think about it they probably never saw American women before. We took pictures of women in their traditional clothing and culture several times in South Africa. Outside of the grocery store I had to separate away from the frustration of my classmates and I’m glad I did because I had a great conversation with a local man. He asked me what I’m doing here and if I’ve been here before. I told him we were studying abroad and specifically at the market to look at culture. He said he would do the same if he were visiting the U.S. He wanted to know more about the U.S and even Africa. He thought we traveled all around Africa and was curious of the comparisons, even to Cape Town he didn’t know. He said they don’t typically see white people, let alone from America, this day will be remembered and talked about for a while. It just makes me feel so privileged to living in a country known to be a “melting pot” where seeing people from different backgrounds be so different but so similar on a regular basis. We continued to visit various artists with different paintings, wood sculptures and pottery. We saw musical performances and traditional dances. We were able to see the process of making the pottery, beadwork and traditional clothing, which was very cool to see. Even when they played music the instruments were all authentic. Some were made with wooden pieces, drums were made from animal skin stretched over wood and some just played on dishes. It was just so cool to watch music be stripped down so simply and bring such happiness. After a long day of frustration and uncomfortable situations our professor/friend hosted a great academic session. We took blankets and looked under the stars, and she told us to “meditate on today, this trip has been an emotional roller coaster, but think of how that fits into the world.  Think about the future, to start to apply what we’ve been learning and how it fits into this world. I remember looking up thinking about the day that was so frustrating and realizing how small I actually am. The frustration that consumed me felt like I was trapped, but in the scheme of the universe, does that really mean anything. I’m such a miniscule piece of the universe and what should consume us is what is around us, the big picture of things. The people we meet, the stories they told, of the struggles, the successes. To think about how such minuscule things can consume us. Right before finals week I remember feeling so consumed in my studies, working and trip planning, housing, jobs and the stress consumed me and shrunk me into a box.  My hope was running short and my frustration was running high. Yet, being here in South Africa has made me feel so refreshed, I feel like I’m in a constant state of bliss each night I go to bed. Even though we’ve seen some of the more ugly sides of the world, extreme poverty, disease, violence, we’ve seen people living among that that are the happiest I’ve ever seen. “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it.” The world is our, it’s our choice what we want to do with it. If these children can be so happy with such little, why can’t I do the same when I’ve been blessed with so much. Just like I’ve seen some of the ugliest things, I’ve seen some of the most incredible things over my travels that most don’t get to see over a lifetime. I remember looking up at the sky thinking the most incredible thing I’ve seen is lying right above me and how come now I’m just now appreciating it? I have the night sky every night, thousands of miles from home, on good days and bad ones, it is always here; to ground me to the big picture of what really matters. My life is such a small piece of the world, I don’t want that to consume me, I want to be able to be consumed with connections of the people I’ve met, the places I’ve been and the lessons I’ve learned along the way.  How lucky am I to have met the kind of people that have given me such perspective. As Dr. Seuss said “ To the world you may be one person’ but to one person you may be the world.”
What a feeling it is to be connected.

Friday, June 3, 2016

This magical place: Cape Town

This magical place
            Every night I went to bed in Cape Town, attempting to process how incredible the day was, and in my mind I thought that it couldn’t get any better. Yet every day during our adventures I was blessed to find that each day was better than I could have ever dreamed.
            We went to the Scalabrini center two different days for full day meetings. We met several different organizations that addressed different problems in South Africa. There was one organization that worked to empower women, since women aren’t treated equal in South Africa. They would work to get what they call a “stockveld” going, where women all donate money to one woman to start her business and when she makes profit pays back so another woman can start hers. They have a woman get trained in a skill for a cheaper price than traditional school and then when she is a “master” she will teach the classes and get a small compensation. This worked well at giving these women steps to independence and not having to rely on a man to completely support them. There were a lot of men who worked in the  “women’s empowerment” sector to help break traditional stereotypes about women. They viewed this as a way to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS and empower women to have a say in their protection. Traditionally in a lot of Southern Africa countries, the woman is there to clean, to cook, and to have children and the man supports the family financially. Most women don’t report domestic violence, assaults or rapes, because sometimes the system is corrupt and the police aren’t even a safe call. In the past women weren’t taken seriously for their rights, especially if it was accusing over a man. They said rights are more liberal in Cape Town, but there are major issues in surrounding countries. I spoke to a woman that believed if her husband didn’t beat her, he didn’t love her. …. I didn’t have words to respond right away. What do you say to a woman that honestly believes that is okay because of her culture? I just told her it pains me to hear that because where I am from that is not acceptable and would not be tolerated. A beating to here was a term of respect, that her husband wanted her to be better, whereas where we are from in The States, that is a harsh form of disrespect. It made me feel better to know that there are men in the program that work with women to show them that they deserve respect, that they can be independent, and that there are men that support women’s rights. At the Scalabrini center we also talked about the “LGBTI” community support. They said Cape Town fortunately is more liberal, but there is a large amount of refugees because most of Africa is not tolerant. “Africa is not a gay country”. We watched a video of some of the refugee’s stories and it was so difficult to watch. This guy moved to South Africa and his family didn’t know why he did at first, and eventually learned he was gay. His mother told him, she wishes she aborted him if she knew he would be gay. He tried to have conversation with his family and support his rights and his mom tried to convince him to drink gasoline and called it “medicine”. When that failed is family all ganged up and beat him unconscious, he thought he was going to die. He was very lucky to have survived.  I can’t imagine what that would do to someone, when you loved your family and grew up supporting each other and to come out and be yourself, and the same people that raised you turn around as your enemy. I just feel like I take for granted so many little things in life that I’m blessed to have. I don’t think about thanking my family for accepting the way I am and respecting me as a person, let alone being thankful they never stripped me of my humanity and beat me to death. Each day these amazing people fight for their rights against a society with such negative stigma around the “LGBTI” community. “Let’s face the facts” works to show traditional people how historically there have been gay people throughout time and it isn’t a new concept. They aim to share their story and discuss rights on the streets. Sometimes it is scary, they said people often say “In my country, they’d kill you, and they should.” How fortunate we are to be taking steps forward and legalizing gay marriage. Even though there are unfortunate acts of violence that still exist, at least we don’t live in a country where you could be killed for being yourself. Desmond Tutu even shared “I’d rather go to hell than to live in a homophobic heaven.” We also had an organization that focused on sexual education and it was very hard for me to listen to. The explanation of HIV/AIDS was very poor and it shocked me that not a single student from the center new what it was. How could a place where it is the highest prevalence in the world not be informed of even the basics of HIV/AIDS.  It was hard to watch the students look confused and not really follow even the basics of protection. While some students didn’t know anything, one student was a doctor, way more educated than the teacher, yet stood in the back and listened to what I considered elementary and misinformed information. The Scalabrini center utilizes an internship where you work actively in programs, help educating and hopefully by the end have a job. I thought they did an awesome job at including multiple classes and resources to help with so many aspects of life for refugees. It seems like a great opportunity to start a project with them, considering they are trying to expand their HIV/AIDS prevention sector.

            We spent an entire day on a Cape Peninsula tour. I thought the views from Table Mountain were the most beautiful views, but this place was even more amazing. We started of by Camps Bay Beach and the 12 Apostles, which we had visited at sunset a few evenings. You have a view of the ocean and the beach in one!! . Next, we stopped at Hout Bay Harbor, Chapman's Peak Drive, and visit the Penguin Colony in Simon's Town.  It seemed so unusual to see tons of Penguin’s in Africa of all places, especially when We then went to the Cape Point Nature Reserve where we cycled through the reserve with the mountains in the background. It was such a cool experience to be biking through such a beautiful park. After lunch we hiked to the Cape of Good Hope where the Atlantic and Indian Ocean meet. This has been my favorite view, I don’t think pictures could ever do it justice, we all felt like we were in a dream. When we got back we went out to Long Street, which is the South African Burbon Street and had a lot of fun!! It was just sad to see women and children in the street begging. Homelessness is a problem in a lot of major cities, that it was quite the experience to explore John Philmon’s Youth Solutions Association (YSA) organization. First of all, this man is always happy and positive. He told me he grew up in one of those poor townships we visited and didn’t have any money or support. What he did have was a positive attitude and a creative mind. He said he has to keep positive and smiling because the people he works with already lack hope and his optimism will carry on. He went with us to feed the townships and play with the children there. He also has a soup kitchen for homeless people to come and eat and he tries to convince them to stay at the homeless shelter. He doesn’t like to turn away people, he said there is good in everyone, sometimes you have to search for I, sometimes people are hidden in their drug addiction, were raised in low income, don’t have support and simply don’t see a way out. His mission is “people empowering people” he tries to give homeless people a chance to get on their feet, start working for him eventually and in turn inspire his community. Let people realize that they can make something of nothing, if they are willing to try. Sometimes we all just need a push, someone to believe in you, something to believe in, to envision a future and that is what John does for many homeless people and what he did for himself. When I went to the homeless shelter I met a man dependent on Tik (similar to meth) he said his Mom keeps trying to get him to come home, but he just wants Tik. He told me that his brother was brain dead from an accident and his mother was looking for him, but he doesn’t want to in fear that his family will interfere with his Tik dependence. He told me he would probably hike to the mountains with some Tik and cry about his brother and try to cope. It just is so heart breaking to see what drug dependence can do to someone. There were children at the soup kitchen, which means they are living on the street as well. I just cannot imagine what that must be like as a little girl to have to live that kind of life. Watch your parents do drugs on a regular basis and have no motivation to work or make a better life. It just is hard to see a kid set up with such struggle. I cannot believe that a month ago I was stressed out about finishing school, getting a job, finding an ideal apartment, etc. It’s just hard at times when you get caught up in the small details of everyday life, that I just often forget to be thankful for the bigger picture. I felt so overwhelmed by my busy schedule I forgot to be thankful for all that I have. I would have been embarrassed complaining or stressing out about planning a trip and finishing my college degree to some people who don’t even have a place to live. The unemployment is so high, nutrition is low, resources to homeless are low, hope runs even shorter if they have HIV/AIDS. I can’t imagine how you can wake up in the morning and try to strive for a better life with all of that against you. John Philmon also opened a homeless shelter under an overpass, there are 50 beds, but most sleep on cardboard boxes with blankets. This woman volunteers each day from 7 in the morning till 8 at night to help cook meals for the homeless. Just can’t begin to fathom how a person can be so giving and be completely content. John Philmon keeps focusing of future plans and expanding further and further. To see a man who started literally from nothing to begin to build up these people and support them to a better future is just beyond inspirational. It is my goal to find ways to help support YSA, because the prevalence of homelessness encompasses several health issues in South Africa, and as an extra incentive it is nice to know a strong positive man is the leader.

On a lighter note, we had the weekend off which was nice. On Saturday we went to hike Lion’s head (part of Table Mountain) for sunrise. It was absolutely beautiful. The hike was a lot harder than I anticipated, but adventurous. There were ladders to climb, chains to help pull up rocks, staples to “rock climb” up, but in the end it was absolutely worth it. The paragliding sight was also off of the same side of the mountain. The views we got were so beautiful as usual. Got to see most of Cape Town within a 15 minutes paraglide ride. We then spent the night at a very authentic dinner. We learned how to play the drums traditionally and participated in tribal circle. They gave us traditional dishes from almost every country in Africa. Then they had performers come through with the drums, dancers and singers. It was just so rustic to have that in the background of dinner. They also did face paint for us, which was very traditional.          The following day we went on a full day wine tour in Stellenboush. We went to 5 different vineyards. Some of them paired chocolate with the wine, while others paired biltong (similar to jerky). We learned to see, swirl, smell, sip and swallow ;) By the end of the day we were all doing karaoke on the bus. (Guess we all enjoyed the wine) On our afternoon academic session we decided to meet up in Kirstenbousch botanical gardens. There were tons of different species of plants. Dan and I decided to take the road less traveled and kept hiking further and further away and then we saw a sign that said to Table Mountain, so we just finished the hike and ended up on the top of the mountain. On the way back down we saw this garden that was designated for medicinal healing remedies. There were cures for headaches, rashes, joint pain, cramps, digestive disturbances, etc. That was pretty cool to see because we don’t have as many species of plants back in the states as they do here.
            On our last 2 days we went to “Stepping Stones” in the sixth district. “Stepping stones” is a children’s school. I noticed some familiar faces when we were there, some from the “Crossroad” HIV/AIDS clinic and some from the “Smallville” Township. You wouldn’t know anything different about these kids; they all dressed well and were clean. It just made me realize how much you judge someone by how they present themselves, but often times it isn’t representative of how they actually are as a person. They seemed the same as children back in the states, yet they lived in shacks, some lived with HIV/AIDS, didn’t have parents and you’d have know idea by looking at them or talking to them. Similar to the Township they liked “pleading” my hair. This one boy asked me how I got my hair and just kept petting my hair like I was a dog ahah! It was so sweet though, they made us all crafts to thank us for playing with them. It was an Africa frame with their fingerprints in the center. I spoke with the principal of the school to understand more about her mission there and she said all these children can’t afford school and are in extreme poverty. She tries to lean them away from traditional beliefs and tries to make them more modern. For example she has men work in the kitchen to lean boy and girls away from the typical belief that only women are in the kitchen. She tries to get different dolls from different backgrounds so they see different races as beautiful. Not just the traditional blonde hair and blue eyed Barbie doll, but the African doll as well. If she noticed all boys playing with certain toys one day she makes sure the next that they switch the activity to something the girls were playing with. I think it is important especially at a young age to try and break stereotypes and let people just live freely the way they want to. I feel pretty blessed to live in a culture where I have the freedom to be an independent educated woman with the ability to explore my curiosities and stand up for what I believe in. The second day we were there we helped with medical checks. It was nice to be able to help out because they all work very hard to try and keep these children healthy. We checked their teeth for which ones would need to be pulled and educated them on brushing and flossing. We also did more thorough assessment and checked height/weight, temperature, lung sounds, head and neck, eyes, ears, nose throat, limbs, skin and then wrote a patient report in their journal. It was really busy all day, I can’t believe this woman checks all of the kids herself once a month! They call the nurses “Sisters” in South Africa so that took a bit getting used to since when I walk in the market they also call me “Sister”. When we were about to leave after the second day they provided us an unexpected traditional lunch that the children made similar to a samosa with different flavoring, a malay wrap with chicken and the Malva pudding cake. The children then joined together and sang us a few songs. It was so adorable I wish I could’ve filmed it but they want their privacy protected so no pictures were allowed.
            I’m going to miss the B.I.G backpackers, the staff was awesome and I consider my friends now! We had so much fun around breakfast chatting about our past evening! Sitting in the “Mosch” bed (pillow pile) drinking good wine and cheese and sharing our cultures. Met a guy from Jordan who was travelling by himself and tagging along through some of our excursions. Met a girl named Lily form Amsterdam who was working on her internship. We also met a doctor form NY who just decided to go on a whim for 2 weeks and purchased a ticket to Cape Town. I met a couple people from Germany who were sure to give us good beer. There were some nice Israelis who made us try their dinner each night as they were cooking. So difficult to say goodbye to such nice and welcoming people, but fortunately we kept each others emails and exchanged media profiles to be able to keep in touch.
            In general this part of my travels has brought a lot of reflective thinking. Through all of the lows and all of the highs, it has been the opportunity of a lifetime at the perfect time. I’m trying to stay mindful of the struggles I’ve seen especially when I slip out into unnecessary negativity. “Am I really tired? Am I really thirsty/hungry? Is a lost item worth my stress? “Is the lack of wifi really something to be frustrated about?” Trying to figure out what is really important and what I want to do with my life has completely been turned upside down. This place has made me redefine my happiness and what it really means to be alive. I’m getting comfortable not knowing all of the logistics, and finding comfort knowing that this trip has already brought me new purpose and inspiration to follow through.
            Later in our academic session we discussed how intimidating and complex HIV/AIDS and where we thought you would start. A lot of people said education is important, but then we found contradictory information of what HIV/AIDS is. There was a teacher who told me that she thought HIV/AIDS is made up from the government to kill of poor people with ARVs because of overpopulation. A teacher!!! Someone children are looking up to and basing information off of! It is just scary to think of how problematic that is! There was another man who told me it was from having sex to soon after an abortion is what causes HIV/AIDS. There definitely needs ot be some work on having some standardized education on HIV/AIDS especially with the issue of prevalence. Education in my opinion isn’t the most important component but it definitely is a necessity. I think back in the United States often times we know that we should exercise and not drink a lot of alcohol and turn away from processed foods, yet we still do it. Why? We know from nutrition classes what is healthy, why would we choose to not do what is best then? Processed food in the United States is often cheaper than fresh foods, so often the lower class doesn’t see the opportunity for healthier options. Even as I consider myself as a middle class person, I wouldn’t think about making sure I got sustainable nutrients, because I don’t worry not having enough food. Sometimes I feed myself crap, other times I feed myself well. In these poor populations, they feed themselves like they would a machine, with efficient and good nutrients because that might be all they eat for the day. Another important note that people made was the financial problem. It exists everywhere! One side of the street there are people living in luxury throwing out loads of leftovers or rejecting their dinner because it didn’t suit their taste, yet on the other side of the street there are people of all ages starving, scrapping a meal from a trashcan. So what do we do help change this? You cannot force people to give away their money to decrease the disparity between classes, but what you can do is change your own habits. There are mansions right on the waterfront and a few blocks away there are thousands of people living in shacks in townships. You would think that the people living in a house, with educational opportunities, freedom for luxury would be happier, but I’ve found the opposite. These people who have just what they need to survive, living in simplicity were some of the happiest and most generous people I’ve ever met. I remember sitting on a bench making observations of street interactions. The beggers would approach people walking out of a market asking for a piece of bread or food and people would walk fast or say no. The people who did give food to the beggers were the other beggers. Rationing out the last piece of bread so that their neighbors wouldn’t go starving. Not to say that those who don’t give to the homeless are wrong I personally didn’t give mine to beggers if they asked. John Philmon specifically told us not to give to beggers because it is training them that is okay to get “handouts” and there are resources out there that provide food, help you live safely, provide food and a basic education. I took his advice and the next time I heard a begger I walked them over to the soup kitchen. Showing someone a resource and giving them some brief independence is worth more than a piece of bread. Linking them to the positivity and motivation is more important in my opinion. Even going to the clinics and seeing people educated, given transportation and medication for their treatment still not adhering to medication just hit me that we didn’t discover the root of the problem By definition they have everything they need to be healthy, all of the essential resources are there. I then began to reflect that if I had HIV/AIDS living in a shack, no job, barely enough food, little education, would I travel hours to a clinic wait all day to receive treatment and watch people judge me as I walk in and out. Every time I take my mediation to watch someone judge me. Even back in the States would I want to be friends with someone with HIV/AIDS? I think it is very hard to stay hopeful and see a future with all that working against you, but as John says you have to let people see that they are a part of the world and they are important. I remember each night at dinner my mom asking “What did you learn in school today” or “How was your day?” If I didn’t recognize anyone to care about how I am doing, I think it would be difficult to care for myself. How do we get the message across that HIV/AIDS doesn’t mean “I’m going to die”? How do we get people who are living a dehumanized life to realize they are of value to this world? Do we break stigma or do we work on building confidence first? By the end of the discussion we realized where to start isn’t clear, what’s most important to me may not be important to my peer, but as potential healthcare providers, you must critically think about what you find important and run with it. Find your passion, set yourself goals and achieve them. If John Philmon can cross the road from being a begger in a township without a basic support system and end up developing organization and opportunities to thousands, then I can follow my passion and survive the unwritten road to success. I’m beyond blessed to be able to have the support system that has enabled me to have a good platform for success, but it is now up to me to follow through!

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

“See yah boo-yah” Cape Town ! [See you later Cape Town!]

Sunday, May 22, 2016

First week complete

It has been such an incredible trip in South Africa so far. It is week one and there is just so much to process. We started out more on the tourist side of things. Going to the local pubs, eating decadent meals, cabled up the beautiful table mountain and enjoyed the beach. This place is absolutely beautiful I am infatuated with the scenery. I spent part of the day at the old Cape Town hospital and museum where Christiaan Barnard preformed the first heart transplant. “The primary purpose of medicine is to restore joy and allow patients to live the life they wanted to prior to illness. When it no longer fulfills this purpose, it is meant to aid in comforting the patient from life to death.”  This is what medicine should be, but often times I find that modern medicine is caught up in the politics of big pharma, money and liability. It is my aim to be the health provider that remembers this quote and keeps the patients goals as a first priority and work to guide them to reach it. The U.S consulate gave us a briefing of the safety of the town and they said there aren’t a lot of safety issues in the western cape, just the same as it would be in the United States in a major city. Travel in groups, watch your drink, and ride a taxi when possible.
 Things got very eye opening when we hit into real time Africa and got to go to visit an HIV/AIDS health clinic. Hundreds of children and families waited to go to the HIV/AIDS clinic. Some were poor and weren’t taking their ARV’s (antiretroviral treatment). This caused their virus to become activated and caused several types of infections. The most concerning is TB because it doesn’t work well with the ARV’s and they have to stop treatment. When you don’t religiously take the medication resistance can occur and thus needing a more complex treatment plan.  There is such a heavy stigma associated with HIV/AIDS so much that this boy stopped taking his medication because he didn’t want his soccer friends to find out, but then ended up with TB and cannot play for 6 months. There is a lack of education that causes patients to not really understand what HIV/AIDS is as well as a strong belief in natural remedies. I’ve talked to several people that believe snails cure ring worm and other herbs and vegetables to inactivate HIV/AIDs. Education is definitely lacking, but there are programs that are working to increase the understanding of sexual health and the disease associated. Even my understanding of HIV/AIDS has changed since I’ve been here. I thought you couldn’t live a normal life, that there wasn’t a lot of hope especially amongst poor populations. However, there are so many incredible resources and organizations that help fund situations like this. There were several patients at the clinic that took their treatment and appeared completely normal. Those patients had a good support system and chose to be positive and accept the disease for what it is. The organization KIDS Positive that works to fund children with HIV/AIDS, offering more resources in the clinic, aid in treatment, not just medication but also therapy and support groups. The beadwork project (Kids positive) works so families or people infected with HIV/AIDS can make jewelry cheaply to help fund their treatment. 80% of the cost goes directly to those infected. They also have a box that you purchase to help with strengthening and hand eye coordination that can be lost with the disease. Each time you visit and get treated you get a new toy in your box. The problem is that a stigma then developed when they saw people leave the clinic with a box and then people identify it to HIV/AIDS. There is so much hope for change of this stigma, which will drastically help control the disease from spreading further and keep fatality rates down.
We went to Cape Town University and learned about the HAICU program (HIV/AIDS inclusivity and change unit). They are making efforts to change stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, provide sexual health education and offer support for those infected. Students in the organization go through an intensive training process that interconnects all aspects of human sexuality. This includes sexual and reproductive health, gender identity, sexual identity, sexualization, intimacy and body awareness. Since tradition plays a big role in the culture of South Africa there are efforts that are being made to modify this to use modern resources to help with disease prevention and health promotion. We also heard from one of the founders of “Openly positive”, Derrick Fine. The organization is of people with HIV/AIDS who are opening up about being HIV positive. People from all different walks of life share their positive outlook on life despite their disease.  They work to fight against the stigma and fight for support. “Whisper not”. Don’t be afraid to share your story, there are people from all walks of life who are HIV positive. Whisper not isn’t merely just for those HIV positive, anyone who is affected by the disease, a caregiver, a health care provider. I think that opening up about your story and health is an important direction in getting rid of negative stigma. What is “normal,” is just relative. We cannot let people feel like they are alone, they need to see that there are others just like them and there is a support network to reach out to.
A lot of the topics we’ve gone through are pretty heavy but we do have some downtime to relax and explore the town. We had a braii (barbecue) on Wednesday where they grill ostrich and beef primarily, lots of rice and stew. $1-2 a beer at a pub is the average price, so you can imagine we are enjoying that side of the currency exchange. There some really unique pubs here, we went to the “Dogs bullocks” the other night and it was a quirky little place, as you can imagine. They don’t serve you, but you select the “bitch” of the table to get up and serve when your drinks or food comes in. They just yell for the “bitches” when it’s ready haha. We also went to Long st. which is the South African Bourbon street. There is lots of dancing, lots of drinking, good cuisine and good music. Some highlights of the bars were “The village idiot”, “beer house” and “sgt. Pepper”. Another afternoon we went to camps bay to watch the sunset over the water and I just couldn’t decide which direction to look in. The beach or the mountains behind me, everywhere I look I’m captured by the scenery. Day by day we are crossing off items off the Cape Town bucket list. Went cage diving in shark alley, and got some great footage of a couple of sharks. It was incredible, you dive under the water when they tell you want they drag bait to attract them in. One bolted at the cage, while I was on the end and jumped out of the water! I also went to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was held prisoner for 10 years. Our tour guide was a prisoner for 5 years, he talked about how he was suffocated with wet rags, beaten and whipped, stripped naked and his genital mutilated. Constantly interrogated, all just to fight for their freedom. He said many died, but survival was through laughter and hope. Positivity was how he survived, that one day they would be free and justice would be served. Such a strong and inspirational men that were held there, it was an honor to stand before them.
After a break, we went back into the slums of South Africa in a township called “Smallville”. There are thousands of people 30 bathrooms, only a few water taps and showers. My heart melted for these children. I got out of the van and was greeted by all the children and one ran up to me after I put my thumb out and gave me a “Cosa welcome”. By the end of the day this little girl Musalya stole my heart. We fed them fruit, snacks and juice and was told by the director that, that was all they were going to eat today. John Philmon of YSA (youth solution association) visits every day to help feed them before and after school, but they still don’t get the attention they need. I was overwhelmed by how many children there were completely unsupervised. I watched them stuff the fruit in their pocket to hide to try and get more. I watched older siblings give their meal of the day to their younger sibling. These children just wanted to be loved. The only thing they fought over was attention from us. They just would run up to us with smiles and hugs. They liked playing with our cameras and taking pictures. So enlightening to see children in such poverty and tough mature situations for their age have such a positive and appreciative attitude.  I guess they aren’t used to seeing blonde hair because the boys and girls gave me a bit of a hair makeover, as well as my other classmates. When I left to interact with other kids Musalaya would find herself back to me with a great big smile on her face and hugs. She called me “sissy” because she said I’m always allowed back as her family to come play with her and she hoped I would. It broke my heart to leave them, but knowing that we made their day and were able to help clean them, made it a bit more bearable. We were exhausted, there working all day from 8 in the morning till dinner time. When we got in the van we were thinking about where to go to dinner because we we’re so hungry. But as the words slipped out our mouth and thought of the township we questioned “are we really hungry though?” It was really hard have an appetite after thinking about that sort of level of poverty exists while we our spending our days in such luxury and privilege. While, I feel so blessed to have had the opportunities and lifestyle I have, I am taking with me the importance of a positive attitude. It doesn’t matter what the situation is, or how much money you have, you still have the choice to smile and laugh and be happy regardless. I thank these children for teaching me the lessons of a lifetime.
            We learned more about how interconnected HIV/AIDS is with drugs use. Drug dealers are all a part of gangs that are very serious here in South Africa. The only way to escape them is by death or vanishing. Each gang has a different number associated with them that are a part of 3 larger gangs. You must go to jail first to be a part of a gang. “26” works to steal “27” works to kill and rape and “28” are part of sex trade and make a point to establish “manhood”.  “28” is big on asserting male dominance, as a gangster in the lower ranks, you are called “wifey” you are raped by higher ranked gangsters in prison until you prove your manhood. There is no choice, they may give you HIV/AIDS, you must cooperate or suffer the consequences. It is very scary to think these situations exist, but fortunately they exist in the eastern cape primarily and not in the western cape. Fortunately, where we are staying is really safe, right by the waterfront, lots of tourism and consistent electricity. I don’t see a lot of people wandering the streets, but there are some homeless people the same it would be in any major city in the United States. Since you cannot be charged if you are under the age of 18, which is quite problematic because they get kids to do the dirty work and hook them in with drugs. They are called “Kat” they will be protected and given drugs as long as they do what the gang says. It becomes a family tradition to be in gangs. When these kids don’t have hope in school they assume being a gangster is the only way to a “luxury” life. Fortunately, there are people that are trying to change this flawed system by charging children so they cannot be exploited.  As a bigger picture, schools are working to lean away from traditional methods and try and give a variety of options. So kids who may not excel in traditional school can see the opportunities for trade jobs or even artistic/musical work.

This is only a clip of the highlights of my first week in Cape Town!! Sorry for scattered notes of my writing, we have a pretty packed schedule as you can tell and it is about 2:30 AM here and I’m trying to record and soak in this experience as much as possible, but I’m trying to keep up with it. Hope all is well, love you lots!!