Wednesday, April 16, 2014

nom nom nom

Y'all, it's time to talk about one of my very favorite topics.  Food!

I've often been asked what food is like in South Africa and what I eat here.  These are two very different questions, so I'm going to answer them separately.

Let's start by talking about traditional South African food.  I will first offer the disclaimer that, like everything else in this incredibly diverse country, what you eat depends on what area you are from and what culture you're talking about.    Here are some traditional foods eaten in my area of the Western Cape:

Boerewors:  sausages, usually cooked on a braai and served on a roll like a hot dog with butter and tomato sauce (which is less salty catsup).  Very tasty.
Boerewors on the braai

Biltong: South African jerky.  Could be made from beef or any of the game animals around.  It's not too bad, considering I don't much like jerky.

Biltong, which I like way more than I thought I would.
Curry: typical of Cape Malay cuisine.  Malay curries are more similar to Indian curries than Thai curries, but they are usually less spicy and might be a bit sweet.  They might even have fruit like raisins in them.  Could be made with ground beef (mince), seafood, vegetables, chicken, or pretty much anything you can think of.

Fish: remember I live in a fishing community, so obviously we eat a lot of fish.  Common local fish are snoek (not my favorite - it's very bony), hake (a firmer fleshed white fish, way fewer bones), and kingklip (also a white fish with few bones).  Depending on where you are, you could have fish cooked in any one of a thousand ways, but I would say fish and chips is probably the most widely available.

Crayfish: very different from the crayfish in America.  Much more like a lobster except they don't have the big scary pincers.  The tails are the best part.  Crayfish could be served in a curry, cooked on a braai, or just boiled.  They're good any way you prepare them.

Abalone: called perlemoen in Afrikaans.  A type of shellfish that is native to these waters.  It is not very easy to cook - you have to know what you're doing or else it will turn out very tough.  But it's kinda fun to make because you have to tenderize it, which involves beating it with a heavy mallet.  I have only eaten abalone once, the time I helped cook it (I did the beating).  It was cut into slices and fried, and it was very tasty.

Koeksisters: like doughnuts, but shaped differently and dipped in a sticky sweet topping.

Koeksisters... am I spelling that right?
Bobotie:  another Cape Malay dish.  Some type of curry topped with baked egg.

Pap: a porridge made from cornmeal, a very Afrikaans dish.  Usually eaten at a braai as a side dish and often with some sort of sauce, possibly a tomato and onion sauce.  Pap reminds me very much of grits, and I like it.  
Pap, which is like grits.
Malva pudding: not a pudding, but eaten for pudding (dessert).  It's a baked desert that is sort of bread or cake like, with a caramelized sugar topping.  Usually eaten with vanilla ice cream or custard.  I'm not describing this well, but I assure you it is very tasty.

Mmm malva pudding with custard!
Ok so those are some traditional foods for this area.  I've tried all of the above things, and I like most of them.  But that's not what I eat on a daily basis.  Why not?  Because this is the Western Cape, and there are real grocery stores that sell any type of food you could possibly want (except Mexican food, which does not exist here unless I am making it with taco seasoning that I brought from home).  Also, I have some weird food preferences.  Before I came to South Africa, I had been a vegetarian for about 3 years.  Needless to say, I don't really fit in all that well in this meat-loving culture.  It's a little like visiting my in-laws in Kansas.

So what do I eat here?  When I'm at my house and cooking for myself, I tend to eat the same foods all the time because I'm lazy and I like them.  Breakfast is plain yogurt (my very favorite food, and readily available here.  Fair Cape Bulgarian yogurt is absolutely the best!) and muesli, or plain yogurt topped with almonds and drizzled with local honey.  Lunch is usually a salad and some sort of sandwich.  Grilled cheese is my favorite, and it's easy to make ever since I stole Hananja's sandwich press.  Most of the large grocery stores here sell fresh bread made in their bakeries for about $1 USD.  The best bread is the home made seed loaf from Peregrine farm stall, which is on the side of the road in between Cape Town and Hawston.  I make a point to stop there every time I travel through.  
This is why I don't cook complicated things very often.  See the problem?
I cook myself dinner at my house probably about 3-4 times per week.  The other nights I'm eating with friends or having dinner out because I'm super popular like that.  By far my most common dinner at home is roasted vegetables with chickpeas, topped with feta cheese. I used to be a vegetarian, remember?  Common veggies around here are butternut squash, pumpkin, zucchini (called baby marrow), bell peppers, eggplant (called aubergine), mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes.  My second most common dinner that I cook myself is pasta, usually with bottled tomato sauce and some sort of veggie like zucchini or eggplant, again topped with feta cheese.  Feta cheese in South Africa is a bit different from our feta cheese.  It is a milder cheese here and it is not as salty.  I don't much like American feta, but clearly I like it here.

Other food staples in my South African diet are:

Crackers - there is a type of cracker called cracker bread that I really like.
Cottage cheese - TOTALLY DIFFERENT from what we call cottage cheese.  It's more like cream cheese, except low in fat and high in protein.  I absolutely despise American cottage cheese, but I like it here.
Dried fruit and nuts - dried peaches and pears and almonds and cashews are my most common.  You can also get something called 'guava slices' which are fabulous.  I'm pretty sure they're made by crushing up the guava and drying it flat then cutting it into slices, a bit like fruit leather.
Tea - rooibos and honeybush are my favorites.  Both of these are fynbos plants that are made into herbal teas.
My current tea selection, with my super cute tea box.  The bottom of the box says, 'Take a second to think about how scared the tea bags must be when a hand reaches in.'  Indeed!
Coffee - obviously coffee.  Only whole beans, freshly ground and made in my french press.  I take it black.  Many South Africans drink Nescafé or other instant coffee, and all of them put milk and sugar in it.  I'm sorry, but that is not coffee.
Cheese - cheddar, Gouda, feta, mozzarella... You name it, the grocery store has it.  The cheese section is always good in every store I've been in.
Cookies - I have discovered the best cookies in the world.  Actually, it was Hananja who introduced me to them, and (darn her!) I would probably weigh several pounds less if these cookies had never made my acquaintance.  The brand is Cape Cookie Company, and they make an oat and coconut cookie that is sandwiched together by chocolate.  It's like a Samoa without the caramel. 
This is the Checkers in Hermanus, a typical grocery store.  Grocery shopping takes me much longer than it should.  The stores are big enough that you need to look at the aisle signs to find stuff, but I can't read the aisle signs, so I end up wandering in circles until I find what I need.
I mentioned that I often go out for dinner.  Hermanus has lots of good restaurants.  The most common types of restaurants I go to are seafood (again, not shocking considering I live by the ocean) or pizza.  Pizza in South Africa is always thin crust, like thinner than a tortilla.  It may not have tomato sauce, but it will always have cheese and other toppings.  I have had some fabulous pizzas here, with everything from butternut, rocket, and pumpkin seeds to bacon, fig, and blue cheese.  With so many different types of pizzas, I guess it's no wonder I eat pizza a lot.  I've also had good sushi, Indian, bakery sandwiches, tapas, Italian, falafel, and Thai at various restaurants in Hermanus and Cape Town.  Basically, you name it, I can find it at a restaurant in one of these cities (except Mexican food).
A typical lunch I might order at a restaurant... a salad with smoked salmon and fresh baked bread.  And a local craft beer, of course.
This was at the Old Biscuit Mill market in Cape Town, where this lovely gentleman was making me a fabulous market sandwich for brunch.
When I eat at other people's houses, nine times out of ten it's a braai.  I've discussed a braai before.  Basically it's just a barbecue, but a braai is more of a thing here.  It always uses wood.  Gas or charcoal would not be a 'real' braai.  The type of meat you cook could be anything, but the people I braai with usually cook lamb, pork, or boerewors.   Usually everyone brings their own meats, and we share side dishes like salad.  
Two boys and a braai... I don't know for sure what they were saying because they were speaking Afrikaans, but I think Dewald was telling Stefan, "Dude, if you touch my braai again I will hit you with this plate."
Of course no discussion of South African food would be complete without mentioning South African drink, namely wine.  There are like a dozen wine farms within a 20 minute drive from my house.  Wine here is usually very nice and very affordable.  If I spend $8 USD on a bottle, then I'm buying the good stuff and it must be a special occasion!  The most common varieties of white wine in this area are Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.  However, I seem to have finally acquired a taste for red wines!  Pinotage is my favorite.  It's a very South African varietal, and you can find a good pinotage at most vineyards around here and in pretty much any shop.

OK now all this food talk has made me hungry.  Good thing I have some cookies in my pantry.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Totsiens and Dumela

Remember way way back last spring when I was waiting and waiting to see where in the world I would be placed for my YASC year?  And how I almost ended up in Lesotho instead of South Africa?  Well guess what?  I'm going to make it to Lesotho after all!

HOPE Africa, who partially sponsors the care centre here in Hawston, also works with St. James Mission Hospital in Mantsonyane, Lesotho.  St. James does a lot of maternity care, and since my nursing experience is mostly in labor and delivery, we all decided it would be great for me to spend some time there.  I am so excited for this opportunity to learn from the doctors and midwives at St. James, and I'm frankly very curious to see what labor looks like over here!  I think it is going to be a totally different experience.  Mantsonyane is VERY rural.  There is no NICU for premature babies.  Epidurals aren't an option.  They do cesarean sections at St. James, but only as truly a last resort, when all other options have been exhausted.  In the US, my entire life (or so it felt like at the time) as a labor nurse revolved around the fetal heart rate monitor strip.  At my hospital in Richmond, computers showed us our patients' strips from every room and from the nurses' station.  If I went to the bathroom during my shift, I would ask one of my colleagues to watch my strips until I got back.  That is the way we roll in America.  I will have to tell you more when I actually get there and experience a labor, but I am quite sure this will not be the case in Lesotho.  In fact, I'm not sure they will have electronic monitoring equipment at all, and now I'm really wishing I had gotten Carolyn to teach me to use a fetoscope.

St. James also works with satellite clinics around the Mantsonyane area, because as rural as the hospital is, there are villages in the surrounding mountains that are even more isolated!  I've absolutely loved the community based nursing I've been practicing in South Africa, and I hope I get to experience some of the satellite clinics in Lesotho also.

To learn more about St. James and its work, check out their website!  (Side note:  I'm pretty sure that former YASCer Jared's fingerprints are all over this website.)

In the midst of my excitement about going to another country in southern Africa and experiencing my nursing specialty in a very different environment, I have to admit I'm having some conflicting emotions about this change of plans.  Mostly because it means saying goodbye to Hawston two and half months early.  Suddenly I'm down to my last 5 weeks working at Overstrand Care Centre, I am running out of time to check off my must-do list, and I am really starting to freak out about leaving the people that I've spent the past seven and a half months falling in love with.  I know Lesotho is going to be awesome too and I can't wait to get started there.  But before I can do that I have to come to terms with the fact that my time here is actually ending, and I really am leaving quite soon.  

Until then, I'm going to keep enjoying the work I'm doing right now (Martin is back after his much deserved long vacation, and I have never ever in my entire life been more excited to see someone than I was to see him!) and growing the relationships I've made here.  This weekend I plan to soak up what might be the last of the real summer weather in the Western Cape.  Look out beach, I'm not done with you yet!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Lots of photos

My apologies that it has been nearly two weeks since my last post.  I have been very busy.  Martin has been on his yearly vacation since the first week of March, so I've been in charge at the care centre.  Yikes!  In the midst of trying to run an 8 bed inpatient facility by myself, I've also had some visitors!  My mom and sister were here in South Africa for the past 10 days.  It was great to see them, but unfortunately it was a working holiday, in that I worked and they were on holiday.  I just dropped them at Cape Town International this morning, and I'm currently waiting for my friend Jenny to arrive here this evening!  Jenny is one of my best friends from college, and she studies zebras in Kenya, so she is coming down to see me before she heads back to the US.  In the meantime, I am spending the afternoon hanging out in the HOPE Africa offices in Cape Town, and that's the perfect opportunity to show you a bunch of the pictures I've been snapping over the past few weeks.  Enjoy!

Recently at work, we've been having fundraisers on Friday.  Wendy is displaying her excitement about our koeksisters, which are like doughnuts soaked in syrup.  YUM.

A beautiful late summer day at Overstrand Care Centre!

Stellenbosh, where Hananja and I recently spent a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Buttercup, my furry home invader.

This little doggie followed me around work for an entire day recently!  I named him Squirt.

Fish and her two orange kittens, Clementine and Cheeto.

The Ash Wednesday service at St. Andrew's Anglican Church in Hawston, where the service was in Afrikaans and it was about 105 F inside the worship space.  I deeply regretted my decision to wear a sweater.

Me and my friend Rod on a recent visit to one of the wineries in the Hemel en Aarde valley.

Hananja contemplates the wine list.

Yeah, that's my yard.  I know you're jealous.

Bishop Margaret of False Bay, the first female bishop in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, visited us at the care centre a few weeks ago!

Just me chillin with the Bishop.

Robben Island

Yes, that is Nelson Mandela's jail cell.

Me and my sister and our Robben Island tour guide, a former political prisoner who now lives and works as a free man on Robben Island.

Table Mountain as viewed from Robben Island.

The limestone quarry on the island, where prisoners were forced to labor.

From Nobel Square at the V&A Waterfront.  Desmond Tutu has a seagull on his head.

Table Mountain cable car!

This is what Cape Town looks like from inside the cable car.

My sister Amy at the top of Table Mountain

Me at the top of Table

Beautiful view, I know.  Of course I'm talking about the lady in the photo, not the scenery.

Table Mountain as seen from the V&A Waterfront.

Hout Bay, still one of my favorite spots in Cape Town.

Me and my mom at one of the lookouts on Chapman's Peak drive.

More cuddly penguins at Boulders Beach.

Table Mountain and Lion's Head from the top of Signal Hill.

... and a house in Cape Town with a GREAT paint job!

Friday, March 14, 2014

One day, ENS came to visit me

... and this is what happened!  ENS is the Episcopal News Service, which brings stories of interest to Episcopalians everywhere.  Guess what?  My work in Hawston is of interest!

It was a pleasure getting this visit from Matt of ENS.  I really enjoyed showing him around the care centre, and he did a fabulous job of capturing the realities of life in Hawston, and what my work is really like.  This is the real thing, folks, the reason I'm here.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is a five and half minute video worth?  Probably more than my whole blog!  I hope you enjoy this glimpse into the real Overstrand Care Centre.

Monday, March 10, 2014

More than you ever wanted to know about HIV

Before you read any further, let me apologize in advance for how technical and possibly boring this post may seem to lay people.  I am writing it because, first of all, I'm just interested in HIV.  As a disease process, it is simply fascinating, and the way we manage it medically is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest scientific triumphs of the past 25 years.  I will readily admit that I'm a giant geek and I just want to talk about a topic I find interesting.  The second reason I'm writing about HIV is that I deal with it pretty much daily here.  That's just life in health care, and it is not specific to South Africa.  There are plenty of HIV positive patients in America, too.  Finally, I think most people (especially lay people, and especially Americans) have strong feelings about HIV, and many have an unwarranted fear of the disease.  I have always believed that the more you know about something, the less frightening it is.  If I am wrong you actually already know most of what I'm talking about (or, at the other end of the spectrum, if this is too technical for you), please leave me a comment and tell me.  I'm interested to know what you think!

I will also offer the disclaimer that I am making some assumptions on what is and is not common knowledge based upon what I feel that most educated but medically illiterate Americans know.  I fully realize that many South Africans have a better understanding of HIV basics than most Americans do.

Let's start by defining HIV.  When I was a kid and this disease was still pretty new, it seems to me that everyone called it AIDS.  There has been a shift within the last 10 years or so, and now people usually say HIV.  What is the difference? Well, it's a big one!  Human Immunodeficiency Virus, when untreated, causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. The relatively recent change in terminology is reflective of the fact that, with modern treatment protocols, being HIV positive does not mean that you will necessarily get AIDS.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let's back up here.  HIV is a virus.  Viruses on their own are not living.  They are just DNA or RNA surrounded by a protein shell.  Since they aren't alive, viruses depend on a host to reproduce.  There are two basic types of viruses.  In one type, the virus attacks a host cell and confiscates its resources to copy its own genes and protein shell, basically making lots of baby viruses.  When it has used up all the cell's resources, it destroys the cell, and all the new copies of the virus are released.  It's kind of a fast and furious cycle.  The other type of virus works a little bit differently.  When it attacks a host cell, it does it with stealth, by inserting its viral genetic material into the host cell's own genome.  Then, every time the host cell (which may for all intents and purposes look healthy) makes a protein from that region of its own DNA, it is making viral proteins, too.  When the host cell reproduces, the viral DNA is copied along with the host DNA.  So a virus of this type can stay inside a host for years, slowly causing progressively more damage over time, rather than rapidly wiping out the host like the fast and furious virus does.  You can probably guess which type of virus HIV is.  Yeah, it's the stealthy kind.

HIV is particularly interesting because it belongs to a class of stealthy viruses called retroviruses.  These viruses use RNA as their genetic material, which means that they must go through an extra step (reverse transcription) to change their single-stranded RNA into double stranded DNA so it can be inserted into the host cell genome.  The enzyme that accomplishes this process is reverse transcriptase.  This is important because human cells don't normally do this process or have this enzyme, as far as we know (although I just now found an article about an enzyme called telomerase reverse transcriptase that seems to be present in normal cells and has something to do with slowing the aging process... I must do some reading about this).  So you can see why HIV can be so destructive.  The viral RNA, which a patient's body might be able to identify as foreign and destroy, is changed to DNA and incorporated into the host, so even if the original virus is destroyed, its genetic material is still being copied and transcribed by the host cell, which thinks it is just copying its own genome!  That clever little booger!  Do you see why this is so fascinating to me?

All viruses have a specific type of cell they like to target, a host they prefer (just like I prefer curling up on a couch to sitting on a hard chair).  HIV's favorite host cell is a type of white blood cell called a helper T cell, specifically CD4.  These cells are really important in your immune system because they help other immune cells mature.  (I admit that I know very little about the immune system on the cellular level.  It is one of the most complicated topics in cellular biology, and I always dreaded that chapter in my bio courses!)  So if you don't have enough CD4 cells, you are also unlikely to have enough of the other types of white blood cells that identify and destroy foreign invaders in your body.  If your CD4 count drops, you're not just losing one fighter in the war against infection, it's like every class of weapon in your whole arsenal is diminished.  This is why HIV causes such a catastrophic decline in a patient's ability to fight infections.  Infections that would normally be glaringly obvious to your immune system will pass unnoticed, and you could get very sick from something that you normally wouldn't even know had infected you.  Also, you're more likely to get cancer, because your immune system won't be able to identify and destroy the cancer.  (Did you know that your immune system destroys cancer?  In fact, most people will develop cancer five to six times during their lifetime, but your immune system will normally identify and destroy the cancer cells.  You only get diagnosed with cancer if the immune system misses it.)

So now that we've looked at the way the HIV virus operates, let's talk about what that means for an affected patient.  We all know that HIV is spread through contact with an infected person's bodily fluids.  Currently the most common (by a landslide... no other way is even close) mode of transmission is unprotected sexual intercourse.  HIV could also be spread by getting stuck with used needle (although that is actually relatively unlikely; for infection to occur, the needle would have to be very bloody and the HIV positive person would have to have a pretty high viral load), receiving a blood transfusion donated by an HIV positive donor (again, really unlikely because blood is tested for HIV before it is transfused), and of course it can be passed from mother to child in utero (although taking ARVs during pregnancy greatly reduces the risk of passing the virus to the fetus).  So, if you contract HIV, you would initially show flu-like symptoms that would go away in a few days or weeks.  Then you enter the dormant phase, when you look and feel pretty normal.  This is essentially when the virus is doing its stealth thing and hiding, but it is also slowly reducing the number of CD4 cells in your immune system.  Eventually, if HIV is untreated, it destroys enough of your CD4 cells that your immune system isn't able to function right.  For someone to be diagnosed with AIDS, they must be HIV positive, have a CD4 count that is below a certain threshold, and have at least two AIDS specific conditions (infections or certain types of cancer that appear only in immunocompromised patients).  

Medical practitioners use two main blood tests to monitor the progress of HIV in a patient's body.  One is the CD4 count, which tells us how many CD4 cells are left.  You want this number to be high.  The other test is the viral load, essentially how many copies of the HIV virus are floating around in the patient's blood stream.  You want this one to be low.  With modern treatment, many HIV positive people have an undetectable viral load, meaning there are so few free copies of the virus that we can't find them at all.

So, recall that I said we have won the war on AIDS.  How did we do this?  With antiretroviral drugs.  ARVs disrupt the HIV life cycle.  They work really, really well, but they are not perfect.  They do not actually kill off the HIV virus that already exists in the patient's body (remember, the virus is not 'alive' so it can't really be 'killed' either).  Thus, ARVs do not 'cure' HIV, just like insulin doesn't 'cure' diabetes.  And remember, HIV is a stealthy little beast.  If you only take one kind of ARV, the HIV virus tends to become immune to the drug you're taking.  So modern HIV treatment protocols call for three different types of HIV medication from at least two different drug classes (the 'cocktail').  One of the classes is likely to be a reverse transcriptase inhibitor, which works by preventing the HIV virus from changing its RNA into DNA.  (There are two subclasses of reverse transcriptase inhibitors, one of which binds to the enzyme and inactivates it, while the other is a faulty nucleoside or nucleotide that causes reverse transcriptase to fall off the RNA chain.)  The other types of medications interrupt different parts of the HIV life cycle.  Some of these drugs prevent the virus from entering the host cell, some block the insertion of the viral DNA into the host cell genome after it has been reverse transcribed, and some prevent the splicing of viral amino acid chains which prevents the assembly of new viruses.  Using three different drugs from at least two different classes prevents the problem of the virus becoming immune to one type of medication.  There are even combination ARVs that combine the three different medications into one pill that the patient can take once per day.

ARVs must be taken every single day, preferably at the same time of day, or else that clever little virus might become immune to the cocktail.  Unfortunately, this causes us in the medical field huge problems.  There are any number of reasons why someone would default on their ARVs.  They might not be able to get to the clinic for a refill.  They may not understand the importance of taking their ARVs every day, especially once the ARVs are working and the patient feels healthy.  They may not want to display their HIV positive status so they hide their ARVs from their family, making it difficult to remember to take them at the same time every day.  The side effects (common ones are dizziness, depression, nausea, etc) could make a patient feel worse than they did before they started taking the drugs (this is especially common when beginning therapy).  Once a patient defaults their ARVs, we have to switch them to a different ARV cocktail since that patient's virus might now be immune to the previous ARV combination.

Despite their problems, ARVs are a medical miracle.  I touched on this in my six month blog post.  I can't say enough about the science behind these drugs.  If you think of all the resources devoted to finding a cure for AIDS when it was first identified, it's incredible how our understanding of this disease has progressed, and how we've used that to develop an effective weapon.  If only we could do the same thing with global warming!

So, with all our modern medicine and knowledge about how to prevent transmission, why is HIV so prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa?  I hear a lot of political and sociological explanations for this (some are valid and some are not), but I'm not going to go into them here.  I am a scientist by nature, and there is a very simple scientific answer to this question.  Sub-Saharan Africa is where the original outbreak of the disease occurred. In any global pandemic, the epicenter of the outbreak will always be the worst hit.  Period.  (If you're interested, here is how the original outbreak happened:  A very similar virus (SIV) affects chimpanzees that are hunted by humans.  SIV was transmitted from recently killed chimps to their hunters by contact with the chimp's blood, and through blind luck and mutation, became HIV.  This likely occurred in 1908, so HIV is actually several decades older than most people think.  At least according to this podcast:  I will validate that the part about how the 'spillover' occurred is correct, but that podcast does have a lot of speculation in it also.)  

I have no doubt that our understanding of HIV will continue to grow, and as it does, we will develop even more effective treatments, and possibly even a vaccine.  But in the meantime, we must combat ignorance about this disease.  I said at the beginning of this post that fear comes from a lack of knowledge.  If we are to eradicate HIV, we have to get over the stigma and stereotypes that are associated with being HIV positive.  The vast majority of HIV positive people aren't illegal IV drug users, homosexual, or risky with their health.  They're just people who happen to have this chronic medical condition, which is highly treatable and almost impossible to spread to others through normal day-to-day contact.  So why is there such a stigma attached to being HIV positive?  We can all commit to fighting the war on AIDS by sharing our knowledge and destigmatizing HIV.  Let's work on that, ok?

Note:  I did not cite sources for any of this information for two reasons.  First, I don't feel like citing sources, and since this isn't an academic paper, I don't have to.  Second, I wrote this mostly from my own personal database of useless trivia, which was obtained from lots of sources over a long period of time (nursing school, my undergraduate work in biology and genetics, four plus years of patient care as a nursing aid and a nurse, and a personal interest in the topic that has led me to do a lot of googling over the years.  Yeah, yeah, I know, I'm a big geek.)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Now or never

I have had an amazing time in South Africa so far.  I've made an effort to fully immerse myself in this experience, but now that I'm past the half way mark of my time here, and I need to get serious about checking off some of the stuff that's left on my 'I must do this in South Africa' list.  Sure, I still have several months to accomplish this stuff, but time flies, I get busy, and some of these things require a bit of planning.  So it's now or never! 

 I am asking for your help.  What do I still need to see and do in South Africa?  What will I regret for the rest of my life if I pass up a chance to do it while I'm here?  What would it be a travesty for me to miss?  Please leave your suggestions in the form of a comment on this post.  Or email me, and I will update the list.

To get you started, here is a list of things I wanted to do before I came here and have already done:

See the Hermanus whales
Hit all the Cape Town tourist attractions (V&A Waterfront, Company Gardens, Table Mountain, Hout Bay, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Chapmans Peak Drive, Blaauwbergstrand, Grand Parade, District Six Museum, etc)
Learn to cook abalone
Hike up Table Mountain
Go to a braai
Check out the clubs on Long Street
See African penguins
Visit the Cape of Good Hope
Stand on the southernmost tip of Africa (Cape Argulus)
Run a half marathon
Visit the wine country

And here is the list of things I want to/will do but haven't done yet:

Go shark cage diving (I WILL do this, I'm just waiting for June or July, which is the best time of year to see the great white sharks breaching)
Go to Kruger National Park (Jacob and I are going to Kruger in April!)
Visit Robbin Island (it's a little pathetic that I haven't done this yet, but it got really busy for a while there with Mandela's death, and it was really hard to get tickets.  This is definitely going to happen the very next time im in Cape Town)
Visit Maurice and Paul in Grahamstown (likely in July)
Drive part of the Garden Route (possibly all the way to Grahamstown when I visit the boys?  The problem is that I would need a driving buddy because I'm not comfortable making such a big trip by myself.  So... road trip, anyone?)
Go to Joberg (Jacob and I are going to spend two nights there on the way to Kruger in April)
Take a surfing lesson
Hike part of the trail that runs from the Table Mountain cable station to Cape Point
Go hiking in the Cederberg

What else do I need to add?  Help me out!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Stuff we say

Live around people long enough, and you start to pick up their phrases.  I have recently caught myself repeating some uniquely South African sayings.  I guess it's a sign of how long I've been here.  Some of these words and phrases are things I like to hear, and I will hopefully continue the habit of using them when I get home.  Other sayings don't really make sense to me, and I am trying my best to stop repeating them!  But let's talk about some of the stuff South Africans say:

It's a pleasure - In Afrikaans, the response to 'thank you' is 'is 'n plesier'.  When Afrikaners speak English, they usually still say 'it's a pleasure', or just 'pleasure'.  I think this is a lovely thing to say, so much more genteel than 'you're welcome'.  I try to remind myself to say 'it's a pleasure' when someone thanks me.

Lekker - Means awesome, sweet, nifty, cool, clutch, super, great, lovely, etc.  Pronounced 'lack-uh'.  This is Afrikaans slang, often used with baie (very), so you say 'Is baie lekker.'  I like this word and so I have added it to my vocabulary.

Finished and klaar - Klaar means finished in Afrikaans, so this is literally 'finished and finished' but I take it to mean 'over and done' or 'we're through' or 'you're beating a dead horse'.  

'Now now' or 'Just now' - Does not mean 'now' AT ALL.  Means 'sometime within the next few hours/days/weeks' or 'whenever I feel like it'.

Oma and Oupa - Granny and Grandpa.  I hear these two words A LOT, as I work in a hospice.  Our carers refer to our patients as 'that Oma' or 'Oupa John', and we often call them that to their faces.  It's considered a respectful way of addressing one's elders.

Boot - The car's trunk.  That one is British English.

Biscuit - British English for cookie.  Afrikaans is koekie, which is pronounced just like cookie.  On a side note, for all the South Africans to whom I have tried (and failed miserably) to describe what Americans mean when we say biscuit, here is a picture of a biscuit:

It tastes a bit like a croissant, but the texture is different.

Crisps - Chips

Chips - Fries

Robot - Stoplight

Pudding - Dessert; any type of dessert.  The conversation usually goes like this:
Hananja: 'What are you having for pudding?' 
Me: 'I'm having cookies for pudding.'
This might really be more of a Hananja thing than a South African thing, but I've picked up the habit somehow.

Mos - A very Hawston word.  I'm still not exactly sure what 'mos' means, but I'm pretty sure it's Afrikaans for 'you know'.  Used in conversation like 'You know mos, that Oma, she didn't eat her dinner' or 'I was here mos, at that meeting'.  This word, or at least the frequency with which it's used, seems to be unique to Hawston.  I've never heard my friends from Cape Town or Hermanus say 'mos'.

Hokkie - Another good Hawston word that it took me forever to figure out the meaning of.  Usually the conversation went like this:
Carer:  'I'm looking for the keys to the hokkie.'
Me: 'You're looking for the keys to the what?'
Carer:  'The hokkie.'
Me: (blank look) 'Uhhhhh...'
Eventually I figured out through the process of elimination that hokkie means shed, but could also be used for closet.

Hectic - Same meaning in America.  I mention hectic because South Africans say hectic a lot more than Americans say hectic.  They use it like we use 'busy' and 'difficult' and 'no way!':
'This restaurant is so hectic!' (busy)
'This trail is hectic.' (difficult)
'My family is going on a trip to America.' 'Hectic!' (no way!)

Is it? - Definitely the most annoying phrase on the planet.  South Africans say 'Is it?' like we would say 'really?' or 'oh yeah?'  Often it will be grammatically incorrect:
Me:  'I saw you in the shop yesterday.'
South African:  'Is it?'
Something about the way this phrase is used absolutely drives me crazy.  I think probably it's the grammatical error that annoys me.  But I have caught myself saying it, and I'm really trying to stop.  Recently, when other people ask me 'Is it?' I have started answering, 'Yes!  It is!'

By you/by me:  Means with you/with me, or maybe at your place/at my place.  Like 'Would you like to have dinner by me?' or 'Let's go for a run by you.'

The suffix -kie or -ie:  Afrikaans for small.  'Where is the boxie?' or 'Have you seen that bottlekie?  You know mos, the one for the hand wash?' Sort of like how we would say puppy or kitty, except Afrikaners use this suffix A LOT and often for inanimate objects.  Somebody once told me (jokingly... I think) that they use it so frequently because Afrikaner men are so big and strong that everything else around them seems little in comparison.  (Side note:  The actual word for little in Afrikaans is klein, just like in German.  For those of you who know me well, you know my maiden name was Klein, so I am Keri Little Geiger.  Also, Keri sounds like the Afrikaans word kerrie, which is a type of curry dish.  So I guess if you want me, you can ask for a little curry.)

Umm umm umm umm umm - Another uniquely Hawston thing.  This means that the Afrikaans speaker is trying to think of the English word for what they want to say.  People here in Hawston are usually really outgoing and extroverted.  That's just the culture.  So I guess it isn't surprising that they fill silences when they're talking by repeating 'umm'.  Martin also does this even though he isn't an Afrikaans speaker, and I assume he picked it up from the people we work with.  My other friends here who aren't from Hawston are really unlikely to repeat 'umm' in the middle of a sentence.  If they're trying to think of a word, they just stop talking for a second or two until it comes to them.

(silence) - Silence is the general response to someone sneezing.  Martin and I are the only people who routinely say 'bless you', and neither of us are South African.

On a related note, I was in a shop a couple of weeks ago, and I conducted an entire transaction without giving away that I'm American!  How did I do this, you wonder?  The trick is to say as little as possible, because as soon as I open my mouth it's all over.  My accent gives me away immediately.  So I let the clerk greet me in Afrikaans, and then I just smiled.  When he told me the total I owed, I looked at the cash register screen so I wouldn't have to ask him to repeat the numbers in English.  ('Two' in Afrikaans is 'twee', which sounds almost exactly like 'three' and can be the source of much confusion.)  Then I said 'dankie!' and left the shop.  Successfully fooled that guy!  Look at me!  I'm culturally assimilated!