Sunday, June 17, 2012
Well, another week has come and gone here in the winter of South Africa. Unfortunately, due to limited bandwidth here at my cottage I cannot use Skype and therefore cannot upload any new pictures to include in my blog entries.
The days are starting to pass more quickly, but I wouldn’t say that I am busy or having the time of my life. I am very cognizant of the fact that this summer is part of my graduate school degree, well frankly, because it feels like it. It’s just something I have to do. Fortunately, my past experiences, thought processes, and general attitude towards life have trained me well to deal with this type of lifestyle, and each morning I generally awake feeling positive, and each night when I go to bed I am thankful for a warm home and the chance to learn about another place.
Now that I have that off my chest, I will spare you readers any more emotional discussion and describe a few activities and events that I have experienced in the past week.
Last Saturday, my lovely supervisor picked up so that I could accompany her on her errands for the day so I could see more of the city. I was pleased to do this, as running errands with my mom at home has always been a favorite activity of mine, even though I know most people find it boring. We headed straight out of town to an industrial part of the city that was apparently home to a fancy cheese and wine shop. Everyone in the shop reflected the diversity of this place, but all were there in the pursuit of imports from France and Italy. As we waited in line, my supervisor encouraged me to shop, but I just laughed and said I couldn’t imagine giving my university a meal receipt from this particular shop. Our next destination was Chinatown. As soon as we got out the car, I immediately felt at home, as I felt I was in Asia. There was no sign of Africa to be found! Actually it was rather bizarre. After purchasing some cheap vegetables at the Chinese stalls, we stumbled along a Thai Supermarket. Wow, talk about feeling at home, it was like I had reentered the shops in my nearest city during Peace Corps. Immediately, I started speaking in Thai with the shopkeepers and grabbing all the snacks and drinks I could fit in my basket. I also picked up some fresh spring rolls for dinner that night. Delicious! Moving on with the day, we sat down to lunch at a dim sum restaurant and had great conversations about Peace Corps (my supervisor is a returned volunteer and also used to work for PC South Africa). Never slowing down we headed to a few shopping malls to do grocery shopping and again I felt like there was no way I could be in Africa. The prices are almost the same as at home, and the only thing I was missing in my cart was sliced turkey!
The next few days passed uneventfully as I am now quite used to my commute, my cottage, and other aspects of my daily life here. When Friday finally rolled around I was thrilled. I had made arrangements to meet one of the consultants who helped everyone in our program get our internships for an early breakfast at a Rosebank hotel. She was in town for business for her NGO in India and it was an opportunity that we couldn’t pass up. What a small world! After a great breakfast and great conversation we joined her colleagues and proceeded to meet my colleagues to go and visit one of the CBOs (Community Based Organization) that our NGO supports. The organization is staffed by passionate and energetic folks and I really enjoyed learning more about their HIV programming. After a quick meeting and tea, we all piled into cars and headed out to Soweto to see their mobile testing center and a clinic. Somewhere along the way we got quite lost, but I didn’t mind as this was my first adventure out of the office in 3 weeks. We finally arrived and got a tour of a very busy clinic. Next we headed down the paths into the township dodging the dead rats in the street, children playing and stray dogs to visit the home of a woman living with HIV but also acting as caretaker for others with the disease. The home was in ok condition compared to some of the tin shacks we had passed and fairly clean. During my time in Peace Corps I became comfortable working with people with HIV but this group seemed worse off. It seems that in Thailand, people have more or better access to early testing and ARVs and by comparison these people seemed very sick. Just listening to their stories really drove home the fact that the epidemic here really is one of the worst in the world. In this area 1 in 5 persons is positive.
The visit was great in a number of regards, but it really got me thinking. It was rather awkward to be a visitor to a community project, as in the past I am used to being part of programming and implementation. Now I was one of the people that I was used to hosting! It really made me think about what I want in my future in terms of this work, and I hope that I can strike a balance between doing policy and management and still participating in, supporting, or doing field work.
This weekend was spent relaxing, but I did have the chance to attend a gathering of folks where we watched the South African Springboks (rugby) defeat the Brits. I knew nothing about rugby before the game but actually was able to catch on and think I may start following the sport….at the very least I will cheer on the Boks! During the game we had great champagne cocktails and had a homemade Indian meal for dinner. It was great fun for me and I had a chance to meet and chat with some really interesting folks.
I hope my adventures and activities begin to pick up and happen with more frequency as I only have 7 weeks left here!