Friday, January 30, 2009
Just when I think nothing else will shock me here...something does. Today was a very moving, humbling experience. We were basically off-roading into rural places and we'd pull up to meager shacks or mud huts which are home to numerous family members. Along the way, we dodged lots of cattle and goats! At one such place, Benji told us he knew of at least 12 family members living inside. He explained to us that these people can't get anything or really work anywhere because they have no transportation to get around. They live too far out for efficient taxi access and that would be their only option. Also, they are the poorest of the poor and would not be able to pay for the taxi fare either.
At each home, one of the Zulu girls would grab a bag and hop out. Most of the time, a young boy or girl was waiting to receive the parcel. She would give it to them along with a couple of pieces of candy then we would hop back in and be on our merry way. The children were much of the time sickly looking and most lacked clothing. At one of the stops, I saw a young boy (maybe 10?) sitting on a rock on the side of the road. He was waiting for the food. I waved and he waved back with a huge smile. He got the food and I began looking for his home. I realized that it was so far out of the way, it was not able to be seen at all. He walked slowly down a path through tall grass and through trees dangling the small bag that sustains his family.
Each family or family member looked happy and relieved in a way to receive the food. To any of us, the food was very basic or insufficient. These families receive a plastic shopping bag which ends up being maybe 1/2 way full and contained a bag of beans, a bag of rice and a couple other items. Imagine feeding those 12 people on that food parcel? Not easy...probably impossible! However, the food serves as hope and as a reminder that someone cares for these destitute families. The people here are so welcoming and happy most of the time. One of the men let us (Katie and I) tour his traditional Zulu hut today. He was a very nice man named Sydney. I am so grateful that I got to go to deliver the parcels today. I will absolutely be going again really soon! Check out these pictures:
#1: Fr. Benji, Katie, two of the Zulu girls and Me on top of a cliff overlooking Inanda Dam. The youngest girl Mata loved my camera and wanted to take the pictures.
#2: The young boy I spoke of whose home was not visible from the road. Notice the bag in his hand.
#3: Mata giving candy to one of the babies at the home we visited.
#4: Me with the three sisters!
#5: One of the homes...laundry and all.
#6: This is probably my favorite picture so far. These two little boys did not receive a parcel, but we passed them on a rural road. They were just by themselves playing. We pulled up and they were very confused...then Mata gave them some candy. They were just adorable.
#7: A picture from the side view mirror of the children at one of the homes. The poor little guy in the yellow tank top had multiple, open sores all around his face.
-What is your favorite...color, movie, actor, food, fruit, sport, etc?
-Do you know Chris Brown?
-Are you friends with Beyonce?
-Do you like Kanye West?
-Do you have any babies?
It was pretty funny. They were just dying to know anything and everything about us. Just a fun fact from 7th grade...one of the boys is named WONDERBOY. Yes, I'm dead serious. Two little girls asked me if in America there were a lot of earthquakes and volcanoes? You can imagine my response I'm sure. Once we were done with the 4 or so periods of 7th grade, it was PLAYTIME! The school is a totally chaotic place. School was supposedly still in session, however, kids were running wild. If you can't beat them...join them. One little boy was "petting" my hair for at least a half hour until I realized it and told him to stop. Most of the afternoon I was a jungle gym plain and simple. I broke out the camera and they went bananas! I have some very funny videos of the kids but I cannot upload them until I'm back in the States because our computer can't take it. The still pictures will have to do for now!
#1: Two little guys that stared at me endlessly.
#2: Group shot!
#3: Two of the girls with me during "break."
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
I arrived at the
Within the first 5 minutes, I knew this was not going to be a good idea. Thembi's first task of the day was to change the dressings of a patient who has SEVERE wounds from a bacterial infection all throughout her bottom and lower half. Saving the gruesome details, I can tell you I knew I could not do this on my third day. Once I removed myself from the situation, I was met with a lot of resistance and confusion from Maryann. Let me preface this by saying...She is an amazing person who has dedicated her entire life to saving lives and fighting HIV/AIDS. I have honestly never met someone like her. She gives 150% of herself to fight on behalf of the sick, helpless, hopeless and dejected. I do not know how she finds the strength and compassion she shows day in and day out. That being said, it was hard for her to see how I could be a bit overwhelmed and nervous. She LIVES and BREATHES the HIV/AIDS epidemic and I'm just the new kid on the block.
Luckily, the day got better and I didn't burst into tears after the "confrontation." I said hello to one of the female patients and she responded in English. We began to talk and ended up sitting at a table to do a puzzle. Her name is Lindi and she is 38 years old. She is HIV+ and she is being treated for TB. She and I spent a good hour together talking about our families, our backgrounds, teaching each other about traditional recipes and laughing about my non-existent Zulu. She told me that she's very worried about her two girls, ages 12 and 15, who are home alone because they have no one to take care of them. I could not take away any of her fears but at least I was company for a little while.
The day moved along quickly from there. I went with a volunteer driver to drop two patients off at clinics for various reasons. When I returned, Maryann told me I was going to spend the afternoon with her on a home visit. After piling in a small car, we were off to a far away valley. The directions here seem to always be vague..."turn right at the 5th dirt road near a large mango tree" or, in this case,"turn into the road that is marked with white and red rocks." Helpful huh? After asking all the members of the valley (almost) where this patient may be...we saw the rocks. We approached a small, sad-looking home with two toddlers eating porridge outside. We were told that the woman we came to see was inside. We walked in and I immediately was pained looking at her. She was totally emaciated and gasping for each breath in a hot room with no air. Maryann asked all the necessary questions and tried to investigate why this woman had defaulted on her ARV (Anti-Retroviral Medications).
Sadly, this woman, Zama, had been previously started on the regimented ARV treatment plan. She gained strength and weight while on the ARV's but then stopped taking them correctly. You see, for the treatment to work, it must be taken at the correct dosage, at the correct time, without fail. Many things get in the way of this here in South Africa...money, distance, stigma, transportation, shame, etc. In Zama's case, it was Traditional Medicine. Many Zulu's believe in traditional healers who prescribe traditional medicines which interfere with the efficacy of the ARV regimen. Once you're off ARV's, it is difficult, to find treatment that will work because the resistance is built up. Maryann told her family that they just needed to make sure she was comfortable in her last few days at the house. She told them that moving her to the respite unit would probably be detrimental in the end. Walking out of that home, I felt about as helpless as I've ever felt in my entire life.
Today was a much more calm day at the respite unit. Well, I'm not sure it'll ever be calm, but it was less eventful for me at least. I spent much of the day with my new favorite patient...Zanele. He is an 18 month old little boy who is HIV+ and is there with his HIV+ Mother, Deborah. His Mom was sleeping and everyone else was busy, so I was asked to watch him. He looked absolutely terrified when he saw me. He grabbed a hold of my shirt and arm and held on for dear life. His lips were an awful indigo color because of this medicine they put on his lips to stop his sores from getting worse. He really looked funny. One of the nurses there told me that he was scared of everything and had never learned how to be a baby or child because he's been so sick his whole life.
Me, being the nanny extraordinaire new I could work on that! We started by sitting next to each other on the couch playing with an animal book. He just looked at me with a worried face not at the book at all. Finally, after hour one, I got him to look at the pictures. From there, I took his finger (begrudgingly) and he touched the pages. He then loved the book for another hour or so. I think he may have even smiled! Ok, next I thought we could try to color! I improvised with some dull highlighters and a piece of scrap paper. He actually screamed when I tried to hand him the highlighter. He also covered his face. Poor Baby! I let him hold it for a while and eventually, the paper contained his very own masterpiece.
He was pretty tired after all these new things! I had to attend a meeting with other volunteers and Maryann said he could stay with me. He doesn't move too much. About 10 minutes into the meeting, Zanele was asleep in my lap. It was a great feeling to have him comfortable and maybe even, feeling like a kid for the first time!
Today I followed a few of the careworkers around giving bed baths to a few of the patients that are not mobile. It's been a very interesting week or so because I came into this year thinking that I may want to pursue nursing, but I'm very hesistant right now at least. The palliative care I'm a part of at the respite is for sure different than what I'd be exposed to right away at nursing school, but it's been a learning experience already. Who knows what this world holds for me right now? The patients are so delicate. They are fighting so hard to get better. It's truly amazing and inspirational to be around them. Daunting as well!
A new male patient had arrived the evening before and he immediately called me over when he saw me. We exchanged greetings and I found out that his name was Eric...he is 53 years old. Before I knew it, we were best buddies. He speaks perfect English and wanted to know EVERYTHING about me and America. By the end of our conversation, he told me that he needs my phone number, US address and other contact information so he can come visit me when he's better in America. I hope one day he is better and can fufill some of his dreams...a visit to Vermont, I don't know...we'll see!
Hanneke and I then had to leave and do a bunch of errands in town. We had to go to a clinic and pick up two of the patients who had been there since 7am that morning. The queues or waiting lines at these clinics are something to be seen. Hundreds of people waiting to be seen. Sometimes they get lucky and see the Doctor or get their tests done and sometimes they are told that they waited in vain..."come back tomorrow." Being here just for a short time makes you realize how difficult life is for so many people. I know I have complained if a doctor takes me in 15 minutes later than my appointment or doesn't have an opening for a week or so. Wow! We finally located the two women and were told by the doctor (Maryann's husband) that they got lost in the shuffle because there was no one to advocate for them and they are too sick. They just sat in their wheelchairs being passed by and now it was too late. They'd have to come back again.
We dropped the patients back at the respite and left again to visit GoGo Gloria (the elderly woman who had been bitten by a snake-earlier blog). It was (and had been) pouring rain so that steep incline to reach her house was treacherous. I put shopping bags around my shoes to "save them" and we hiked our way down. Gross! We got there and helped her clean, organize and dropped off her new medicines and dressings. Back at the respite, I dried off and then played with Baby Zanele for the rest of the day.
I arrived at 7:15 am today and was told by Maryann that I was "in charge." Whatever that means??!!! Of course, the careworkers were there and so were other staff members but I was the go to person in case of visitors or outside workers showing up. The day started off well. Eric, that man that wants to visit me in the US called me over again. He pulled out a piece of paper on which he had written up a business plan. He then spent a half hour explaining that he would like us to open a construction business in South Africa when I return home. He said I'd be the CEO and he'd be a supervisor. He said he has it all figured out and I don't really have to worry. I said I wasn't sure what I'd be doing, but again, we'll see.
The day was quiet minus the visits from the electrician and the man to fix the dryer. I got to visit with patients and practice my Zulu with the very inquisitive careworkers. At one point, I told them about snow and they looked at me like I was lying. They thought the idea of a snow day was hysterical too. One of the women, Noma, decided I needed a Zulu name. She gave me the name Thobile which is translated to "humble woman." I love it. Now I walk in and all the patients and careworkers refer to me as Thobile or "Tobes" for short. It is fun to get to know them and learn about each others hopes, dreams, families, cultures and values.
The week was not easy. I did not sign up for easy I guess. There were certainly times (a lot of them) that I said to myself, "What am I doing here? Seriously?!" I have no answer for that, but if I can bring joy to Lindi, Baby Zanele, Eric and the careworkers...maybe that's all the answer I need right now!
Sunday, January 25, 2009
#1: The new Moses Mabedo (sp?) stadium that Durban is building for World Cup 2010!
#2: This will never get old...how do they do it????
#3: Durban Beachfront!
#4: The beach is that way...
#5: The waves were huge. So pretty!
Saturday, January 24, 2009
The pictures below are of:
1- Me, Alex & Katie on the cliff of PheZulu
2- A dark picture outside the entrance to the gift shop!
3- Some huggggeeeeeeeee crocs!
4- The Zulu dancers
5- Two dancers with quite a backdrop.
6- The PheZulu safari truck
7- A hungry croc???
Friday, January 23, 2009
Yesterday, I went with my roommates, Katie and Alex to St. Leo's Primary School in the valley of Molweni. I'm still getting settled into my weekly, daily (even hourly) routine and decieded to spend the day with some of the most adorable children you've EVER seen in your life. We got to school just as the children began to finish up prayer/song/dance and scamper chaotically to their classrooms. The kids are so inquisitive of the volunteers. They come up behind you can grab ahold of your hand, smile ear to ear and/or blurt out "hello, how are you?"
The property is large and the buildings are very simple. The teachers and students I've met so far are out of this world. Everyone at the school seems to care a lot for the kids. They do a lot with limited resources and little if any parent involvement. In an earlier blog I mentioned that AIDS is everywhere here. I spoke to my roommates about how HIV/AIDS affects her school. Alex told me that approximately 60 of the 500 students are HIV+. However, she also told me that there are probably more who do not know it or do not disclose their status due to the intense stigma which still exists here.
I had a blast at break or recess. The kids from grade "R" (pre-K) to grade 7 were running wild and I joined right in. They loved having their picture taken and would crowd all around me to see their own faces. It was a blast. Luckily, with kids, there is no such thing as a language barrier.
The pictures below are from my day at St. Leo's...
#1: A side view of the school grounds...
#2: One of the many groups of kids who were dying to have their pictures taken...I began "herding" them into groups. Once the picture was taken, they sprint to see it on my camera.
#3: We ate our lunch while this adorable little guy kept waving...can you even stand it?
#4: He kept wanting me to take more pictures. He even started posing for me. Too cute :)
#5: The sad looking playground...the kids didn't seem to mind.
#6: The morning assembly filled with singing, dancing and prayer. Then the chaos begins...
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
I immediately was greeted by Maryann who runs the center. I'm not quite sure how this woman does what she does everyday in the face of such adversity. She was trying to sort out some emergency matters, so she passed me off to Hannica (pronounced like the Jewish Holiday), a Dutch nursing student, who is completing an internship at Hillcrest. Thank God for Hannica! She took me under her wing and could sense how very nervous I was about this new endeavor. She gave me an in depth tour and background of the organization, then handed me a manual to look over. I sat and read the care-workers manual for a while, then she told me it was time to go! Go where you ask...on my first home visit into the valley! YIKES!!!!!
Hannica, Sphe (head care-worker), and I hopped into a little white car and took off. We travelled into Embo (mentioned in earlier posts) and barely fit through narrow dirt roads. Hannica parked at the top of a hill because she said the car simply could not make it down as the road was torn up and muddy. Equipped with their medical kit and a scared American lady (ME) these two pros seemed at ease with this assignment. We manuevered down this embankment and came to a small property which housed a small trailor and a shack with a tin roof. As we approached the shack, two babies (1-1.5 years) can running to see who we were...they had only t-shirts on and looked very frightened. They ran away bare bottoms and all screaming and crying after seeing "strangers." They finally calmed down a while later and gnawed on corn cobs the entire time. They were orphaned by AIDS and this family has taken them in.
We were met by an older man who showed us to the patient. She was laying on a mattress inside the shack. She looked like she was at least 70 but I later found out she was 50. She was referred to the Center by someone in the community who feared she was getting sicker each day (she was already on treatment for Tuberculosis). She had been tested in the past for HIV, however, she never returned to find the results. Hannica and Sphe (along with a Zulu care-worker) had to, as Hannica stated, "play God," and deciede if this woman was sick enough to be taken away for care. This may sound like an unbelievable statement, but in South Africa, with staggering infection rates, extreme poverty, limited resources and education, and not enough medical advances this is how it has to be done.
After a long time spent with the patient, they decieded she should go to the Don Mackenzie Hospital which serves many patients with TB and HIV/AIDS. Remember the hill we had to walk down to fetch the woman? Well, she hadn't been out of bed in weeks and she now had to climb this hill as well. Two of the women held her up as she tried to inch her way up the hill. I stood behind the whole group just watching in awe. We then piled back into the tiny car and drove her to hopefully get the care she needs. A young Zulu man came with us in the car. Once we arrived at the hospital, I was standing next to him and asked him what their relationship was. It was his Mother he told me and he was 25. His English was pretty good and we began talking. He never finished school and he only works when he can find a job (5-6 days/month). Tears came to his eyes and he told me "Life here is very, very hard. I thought my Mom would die today. Thank you for helping us. No one would help us." I told him he was welcome and that things would get a little better once she gets the care she needs. Then, we left them there and went on to the next task. All I can do now, is pray for their family and others like them.
Next we went to visit a GoGo (Grandma in Zulu) who I had heard a lot about during my short time here. She, apparently, was a very well-educated woman who lives in a home by herself in a valley. A while back, she was bitten by a poisonous snake down in the grass near her house. After some failed attempts at skin grafts, she now lives daily with open wounds from below the knee to her ankle on both legs. Hannica and I again climbed our way down a very muddy incline to find her, in her usual spot, sitting on the couch. Each week someone from the AIDS center goes to change her dressings and bring her new medicine refills. I was nervous at first to view the wounds, because I was told they were very severe (which they were!!) but once you meet this sweet, OUTSPOKEN GoGo you can't help but be put at ease. We spoke for a while and during that time she advised me about basically all aspects of life. It was obvious that she is quite lonely and she requested that we come back again very soon to chat!
On our way back from GoGo's home, Hannica dropped me at home. I came home and had to sit and think about what I had just seen, heard, and felt. In fact, I think that I'll be trying to sort things I experience out for this whole year...maybe even beyond this year. It's not an easy placement and my first day was definitly daunting. The people I have met so far have already impacted me in ways I can barely comprehend.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
As I'm sure you already know, South Africa has had a very tumultuous history specifically dealing with race relations and apartheid. We live in an area referred to as the Valley of 1,000 Hills in the province of KwaZulu Natal. Our property is on a hill overlooking the valley of Embo. Embo (as seen in a picture below) is a very poor valley which is home to many Zulu families and to one of the highest percentages of HIV/AIDS in the world...reportedly 66%! The houses are falling down, the roads are in bad shape, people don't have basic needs met and the AIDS epidemic has and continues to wipe out populations left and right. I have looked out into the valley of Embo each day we've been here and it's truly unbelievable.
It has been a weird week just settling in here before we begin at our respective placements, feeling quite removed from the people we came to serve. Our first full day here, we decieded to go grocery shopping. We drove down the hill into Hillcrest (can't get away from San Diego I guess) and it felt like I could have been in Anytown, USA (that is a bit of an exaggeration, but close). The main street is lined with restaurants, shops, plazas, even Curves and KFC. The stores sell similar items as home at much, much cheaper prices. We shopped for what we needed, then went to dinner, and returned home. As we get in our car to drive where we need to go, you can't help the hundreds of Zulus who have worked or looked for work/help all day and now must begin a very long trip back down into the valleys on foot.
Day three came along and we were sitting and talking at their priests home, I mentioned that I was anxious to begin my job and start doing my part...I was sick of just hanging around and settling in. Fr. Frank stopped me and stated,"Oh don't worry, you will see the REAL Africa soon enough." Boy, was he right. The next day we went to tour my job placement site...The Hillcrest AIDS Center Trust. This is a Respite/Hospice Unit for Zulu men, women and children with HIV/AIDS. The center is not located in the valley, but it is tucked back on that same busy street which is home to the strip malls and grocery stores. The Respite Unit serves the poorest of the poor in the valleys of Embo and Molweni. We walked in to the building and I had no idea what to expect. The main room is large and bright and at the moment is housing 17 patients...men on one side and women on the other. The building is clean and crisp...bright white. The woman that gave us the tour stated that first and foremost this is a place of great life and hope. You can immediately tell this is true while watching the care workers with their gentle smiles. I tried not to stare like a tourist at the patients, but one caught my eye. A young woman probably younger than myself looking frail and weak locked eyes with me and I smiled at her. Yes, Fr. Frank was right, unfortunately, this is the real Africa. I know that this will be a challenging placement and to be honest, I have no idea what I'm getting myself into. I do know that the young girls' face has been on my mind since the second I saw her and I hope I can be of service to her and many facing the same terrible realities. Hillcrest Aids Center is certainly meant to be a place of rest and compassion...I'm looking forward to finding my place there.
Fr. Frank also described South Africa as a "land of great contrast." Yesterday (Sunday), we traveled for the first time into Molweni and saw that first hand. We drove about 25 minutes from our gated home, like many others, equipped with razor wire fencing, house alarm systems and bars on the windows into poverty that I have honestly never seen before. Molweni is home to a huge number of Zulu people who live in desperate conditions. This past November they endured a tornado and many of their already dilapidated homes were demolished. Apparently, the government came in to survey the damage and pledged to re-build the homes before Christmas . As of yesterday, hundreds of men, women, grandparents and children are living in simple tents like you or I would take on a low budget camping trip. The tents are green and stick out all throughout the valley. This is the REAL Africa.
While in Molweni we attended our first Zulu Mass at St. Leo's Church. The Church began filling up and you could feel the eyes on us because we stuck out like sore thumbs. I was looking around when I felt a hand on my leg. A little Zulu baby (maybe 1 or 1.5) put his hands on my leg and perched his chubby face on me staring in amazement. I came to find out from my 2nd year roommate, Alex, that the little guy is named BOY. Yes, that's his real name! So Sweet. Mass began and the choir sang the most beautiful music I've ever heard in my entire life. They danced and they sang with all the energy they possessed. It sounded like heaven and I can't wait to hear it again. We were introduced by Fr. Benji to the crowd who proceeded to cheer, clap and smile our way. Everyone there was so welcoming and some welcomed us in English, however, most of my responses were nods and smiles back. This is the REAL Africa.
After Mass, my roommate was approached by two little children (4th grade and 2nd grade) who she taught last year (and will continue to teach this year at St. Leo's Primary School). They were speaking to her in Zulu and I obviously couldn't understand. She later explained that they are AIDS orphans and live with their Go Go (Grandma in Zulu). They were at Mass alone and their Go Go told them to find someone there who would be able to bring her to the clinic as she was running out of their ARV pills (AIDS treatment). Alex told them that we could bring her today (Monday). I went with Alex to pick up the Go Go in Molweni this morning. The kids and she were standing in their tiny concrete home awaiting our 7am arrival (that's why I am up so early and have some downtime). We drove her to the clinic where she'll have to wait for an indefinite period of time...probably hours and hours to get the medicine to sustain the health of her two grandchildren. This is the REAL Africa.
The REAL Africa has also meant learning to drive stick shift on the opposite side of the road in the opposite seat in the car. Let's just say...I'm still learning on back roads. Now I know why everyone always said "you should learn to drive with a stick shift car just in case." Hopefully, I stop stalling soon! The REAL Africa was very REAL when a huge monkey ran out in front of our car on Wednesday! I screamed because I was so excited to see it. The REAL Africa has diet coke which was a thrilling find! Even though I've had an unsettling week, I know that I made the right decision and I cannot wait to spend more time here. I have and will continue to see and experience things I never thought possible. The REAL Africa is certainly a place of sickness, disparity and despair, but I have found much more than that in only one week. The REAL Africa is also a place of joy, hope, compassion, and love. I am excited to share in truth that will unfold here in the REAL Africa...
The pictures below are: 1) The valley below our home called Embo...2) Alex, Me and Katie standing on our porch overlooking Embo...3) An unbelivably beautiful necklace I bought at the income generating business at the Hillcrest AIDS center. The shop is called Woza Moya (Come Holy Spirit or Come Hope) and the local women bead as a way to support their families. The jewelry is absolutely gorgeous and very reasonably priced. Orders are being taken :)
We were extremely wiped out and pretty quiet the whole way home. We live about 30 minutes outside of Durban in an area called Botha's Hill. Our "grounds" are very nice. The priests (now +1 with the arrival of Fr. Jack McAtee) live in a beautiful house about 20 yards from ours. Our house is very nice and far from "roughing it." Katie and I are sharing a bedroom while Alex has her own. Our kitchen is pretty tiny, but we have a nice size living/dining room. We certainly have the necessities: fridge, drinkable water, advanced plumbing, a nice shower, and of course, A COMPUTER!!! Can't complain at all.
Below are some pictures of 1) Our plane...2) Me and my luggage...3) Our Bedroom...4) Welcome to Durban sign in airport